Tag Archives: stories of reconciliation

Restorative Justice

Crime is costly. But so is true forgiveness.  This article proves just how emotionally costly this process can be. And yet, the freedom the family finds in the end is worth it all.


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It Doesn’t Make Sense

I moved to a foreign country with no solid contacts, no job, and no idea of where to live. People called me crazy. I don’t live by other people’s standards of success, but I am not crazy.

Honor and Dustin were best friends as children. D came from a more well off family than H, so he often brought extra food to school to share with H. D and H lived on the same hillside outside of Kigali, so they saw each other all the time. They laughed about giving each other piggyback rides to and from school, and the amount of time it took because of this game.

When H was 14 years old, both his parents and 5 cousins that lived at his home were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He fled into the hills surrounding Kigali and hid for two weeks, until the rebel soldiers gained control of the area and created an environment of safety. His home was torn apart, literally—his neighbors used their own hands to tear pieces of the roof and walls apart. His parents, his cousins (who were for all intents and purposes his siblings) murdered. H harbored hatred. H said that if the killers and thieves died, he would feel no remorse. As H grew up and matured as a human, he recognized the humanity in his neighbors, and realized that they were “not inherently bad people, they were the same people after the crimes as they had been prior.”

In 2006, H attended a community trial. The purpose was to exchange lesser punishment for statements of the truth. Accusations abounded, and when H heard other convicted genocidaires accuse D of killing members of H’s family, he was dumbstruck. This didn’t make sense; H could not fathom his best friend engaging in violence against his own family. D was prison, but so was half the country, so H didn’t think it was actually for murder. He went to the prison in-order to find the facts for himself. H said that he needed to see D in person to confirm that he wasn’t a monster. He needed to see that he was still human.

During the first of April 1994, D heard the sounds of a mob taking apart the neighbor’s homes. He ran to join in the destruction. After tearing a roof completely apart, some members of the mob took off to find the residents of the home and kill them. H and his entire family lived in this home. And D joined the factions that sought out the family. He was part of the group that beat and killed two of the eldest boys, H’s cousins. When the law swarmed back through the land, D was sent to prison with close to a million others, just another participant in chaos.

H naively walked into the prison, wanting only to reconfirm that his childhood best friend was still what his memory told him. When D saw H approaching, he was terrified that H knew what he did and was going to take revenge.

“Because I loved him very much, I wanted to forgive him. I wasn’t scared of him, but that he would be scared of me,” H explained of his purpose there.

H asked straight up, what D did. D openly admitted to participating in the deaths of H’s family. H merely said that D should ask for forgiveness. They did not speak again until D’s release one year later.

This is where H went crazy.

After D’s release from jail, H immediately called him up and said you need to come over and meet with my family and I, so we can work out our relationship from here.  The entire family sat and listened to D’s account of the murders. Then, they agreed to forgive him and invited him back into the family. He is treated as a blood member of the family, closer friends than when they were children.

That is crazy.

This story was part of the project I worked on with Jeremy Cowart through AWFRI. H and D were part of his photo series. This is them.

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Roughly ten months ago I boarded a plane for the middle/east of Africa with just inklings of what I was going to do.

I learned so much more than I feel I accomplished. You have dutifully followed what I learned. But I have little solid evidence to show for what I accomplished. (partly because I do not feel that it is worthy of being shared, partly because it isn’t mine to share.)

But here is some solid evidence of what I did.

AWFRI invited celebrity photography Jeremy Cowart to come down to Rwanda and take a series of photos that chronicled the reconciliation stories. The AWFRI team in Rwanda and myself sought out potential interviewees and stories before their arrival. I then acted as translator/guide to the photography team once they arrived. I had a blast with this. (Jeremy and Andres, it was awesome hanging out with you and navigating the ever so understandable cross-cultural work experiences.)

I recorded the stories of the couples we met with, and helped Jeremy put captions to the photos. These images are now part of the “Stories of Reconciliation” series displayed at CNN.com.

Guys, I love being able to share some solid evidence of my time spent in Rwanda. Enjoy!

P.S. Jeremy also wrote his own take on his time in Rwanda and the experience of finding these stories. Check it out.


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Reconciliation Villages

Is it possible to live in true peace due to a peaceful environment?

I wish. But then I remember Tibet. Or Cyprus. Or really, Palestine for that matter.

However, inner peace can radiate outward to create a welcoming environment.

The Prison Fellowship Reconciliation Village east of Nyamata has aspects of both. The physical land of Rwanda is outstandingly beautiful. Just check out the photos from Kibuye under photography. Doing yoga on my back porch or eating passion fruit on the banana leaf chairs before the sun is fully up makes me feel bad for all of you who can’t experience this as well. Seriously, this land reeks tranquility.

Unfortunately, the history of man on the land does not reflect the same sentiment. Enter the myriad of NGOs out here facilitating forgiveness and repentance.

The Reconciliation Villages are one of the first efforts at facilitating situations where victims and perpetrators can live and work literally side-by-side.

The village I saw currently has 110 homes. It is the second largest of PFR‘s Reconciliation Villages.  The villagers come from prisons, widows, women whose husbands are currently in prison (meaning they are charged as some form of master-minding the genocide), children who had no family left and now have a home to call their own.  Together, they cultivate the surrounding plots of land, raise six pigs, herds of goats, and 100 cattle. They share these profits and harvests among everyone.

Walking the streets of this village was eerily peaceful. Partly due to its remote location, and partly due to the fact that in the middle of the day the majority of residents are out working, this village was dead quiet. It was nice. The sun was out, but not fiercely burning. A gentle breeze blew on the back of my neck, keeping my body comfortably cool. Children chattered in the background, but not in a loud too-many-unruly-children-running-about way. And I walked with my camera past rows of neatly built, identical homes with their bush fences out front.

It was peaceful.

My prayer, is that underneath the cosmetic peace and despite the extreme poverty and close quarters, true peace is growing in the hearts and minds of those intimately affected by the events of 1994.

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Going Viral

Word of mouth and recommendations from friends are by far the best way to get a message out to the public.  The question of course, is how best to get the message into the hands of those mavens or connectors. But please read Gladwell’s The Tipping Point if you are actually interested in this concept. I’m not here to talk about its usefulness or how to capitalize on it.  I’m just here to say that yes, finding these mavens and connectors is by far the best way to get your message out. Lucky for As We Forgive, unofficial teachings at the grassroots level are easier spread via word of mouth re-creations of the message and invitations to join the movement.

Every so often, an attendee (or a group of attendees) from the “As We Forgive Rwanda Initiative” healing and reconciliation trainings will feel inspired by the film and teachings.  They say that after seeing the movie, they know it is possible to work with former enemies to improve both of their welfares. And every so often these people form their own economic cooperatives.

But what is so great about these cooperatives is that other people join the cooperative to better their own lives, and in the meantime hear a message of forgiveness and repentance from the cooperative leader.

On Friday, I talked to NDUMUKOBWA Donata, a 65(ish) year-old woman who joined the cooperative in her village because she attended an informational meeting about the cooperative that inspired her to try working in a reconciliation group.  “Because I am old, I can’t do anything alone.” Having this group of neighbors that she works with means she can “rely on them for help in getting a loan, getting to the hospital, or working my own land.”

More inspiring was the president of this cooperative, NDAYAMBAJE Andrew.  He spent his teenage years in a prison, because in 1995, at the age of 15, he was convicted of participation in the genocide and sent to jail. As a youth, he was not allowed to give his testimony, so no one heard his story until the Gacaca Trials. In 2006, he was released from jail and sent to a Gacaca court. After hearing his story, the villagers decided he was in fact innocent, and he was sent back to his family. He arrived in the village to find out that his two sisters had been killed in the post-genocide violence, so it is just he and his mother now. The founder of the cooperative, who also happens to be the local village leader, encouraged Andrew to join the association. This local leader attended a training in January of 2010 and following her experiences with the film and the related teachings, she decided to unite the widows, perpetrators and others affected by the genocide living in her village. So she invites Andrew to join. And Andrew joined because he wanted to develop relationships with a variety of people. There is a variety of ages and both genders represented at the association, and he told me that he believes he can learn a lot from every member, and he knows that by working together, they will develop lasting relationships. Although Andrew was accused of murder and spent 11 years in prison, he just wants to develop relationships with all kinds of people and learn from the elderly of his village.

Without ever attending an actual As We Forgive training workshop, both Donata and Andrew are actively living out the principles of reconciliation. As they go and talk to their immediate family members and personal friends about their experiences, who knows how many more people will join the movement?

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