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?