I would like to share this account of my experience of positive changes concerning reconciliation activities in Rwanda. This has been an extremely important experience for me on a personal level. An experience of which I am now proud and free to discuss with regard to its contribution to the healing and reconciliation process. For instance, it has improved the way I resolve issues in my daily life with my wife, as well as with my colleagues. My working methods have also improved and mindsets have changed which helps me plan all my activities well and collaborate with authorities in charge.
Before the forums and training, I used to think that Genocide survivors are the only ones who have wounds and need to heal. However I found out that Genocide perpetrators are affected by what they did and they need to be cared for in the healing and reconciliation processes. Through this process, I learnt that every story needs to be listened to and every person cared for so that everyone is involved in the reconciliation process. It does not only concern the Genocide survivors and perpetrators, it is everyone’s responsibility.
These forums have given my colleagues and I the courage to listen to touching stories of Genocide survivors, to listen to mothers who have lost all of their children, the women who were raped during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, all families that have been killed, those who were injured and those who still have different diseases, including HIV/Aids. Furthermore to listen to those who were involved with the perpetrators in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi and the shame of young people born from perpetrators. One day my wife Esperance told me that in the beginning of these forums and training, one of the Genocide perpetrators came to sit next to her after giving testimony and she got very scared. She was going to move to another place to attend a different forum but now she is able to sit with them and can even listen to them. Regarding the testimonies of genocide survivors who have attended these forums, they admitted that the program has helped them very much. They said that it is important to have someone to tell your story to, listen to your testimonies and the terrible situations you have experienced and the effects of genocide that you are still facing.
The other good thing has been to see the genocide perpetrators coming forward and telling the truth about what they have done as this is a way of healing wounds. They have said that these forums have been very important because they could get rid of the heavy burden they had been carrying on and also they could feel free to share their stories, ask for forgiveness, have good relationships and have the courage to talk to their children about what they did in the Genocide.
This reminds me about the conversation I had with one of the genocide perpetrators in Mwogo sector, Bugesera district. He had been released from the prison thanks to the mercy of the president of the republic, His Excellence President Paul Kagame. He said that he recognized his responsibility in the 1994 genocide against Tutsi but he hadn’t had the courage to tell his children the reason he was in jail. For me this is a big gap because those children will never know the truth and they will think that his father is innocent which will create hatred. That is how we started thinking that we can contribute to the journey of unity and reconciliation and that young people can find out the truth about what their parents did in Genocide so they will grow up without shame, hate and will contribute to building a better future.
There have been a lot of changes in relationships; one of the genocide perpetrators who lives in Gahanga sector, Kicukiro District has invited other forum participants, including survivors, to his 25th wedding anniversary. His family would never have thought that a genocide survivor could join them in that party and they were surprised to see many of the survivors at their party. One of the family members said “It is a miracle to see the genocide survivors in our party. This is proof that unity and reconciliation exists and it is possible and wonderful.”
In the testimony of that genocide perpetrator, he said that the presence of those survivors in their party had brought many changes in his life and that of his neighbours as well. He said that after that ceremony some of the survivors started to approach him to ask him for help in following up on their unpaid properties that had been damaged in genocide. He has started the process and he is talking to other perpetrators who have not paid back so that they can do it. He has managed to connect the survivors with those who have to pay them back. Some of them have paid while others have given the time when they will pay. He also said that with his friend they would participate in finding the bodies of genocide victims so that they could be buried in dignity. There are other events which have happened after the forums, for example, dialogues between the children born from survivors and the children from perpetrators families as well as the children born from rape.
They have all come together to build a better future.
One of the young people from the survivors’ side has said “standing in the place of Addidas I can imagine how I would feel as a child born from killers and yet I wasn’t there, the way I would live with them.”
If they would not accept to tell the truth about what they have done, I would take them into the court because of the shame I felt from their crimes. The other thought that came into my mind is that the children born from the genocide perpetrators need to be forgiven because you can have a child who didn’t take on your behaviours. After listening to them I felt compassion because they have also suffered. We have suffered because we have lost our relatives and properties but they also suffer from what their families have done. It is a shame to be born from a thief so you can imagine how shameful it is to be born from a killer! We need to listen to them, to care for them, to love them and never reject them from the society.
One of the youth representatives in Bugesera District said: ‘’I was touched by the fact that the youth are eager to build a country without discrimination so the rest is to come together as one and support the children born from perpetrators families who need to be cared for so that they can feel integrated into the society. We also need to help the children born from rape as they have a lot of wounds yet they have to comfort their mothers. All this needs to be taken into consideration and it will help us in the journey of sustainable unity and reconciliation.
One of the survivors told me that before he had not been able to talk about what happen to him even though he is one of the local authority figures and was the unity and reconciliation facilitator in his community. However after attending the forums that we prepared he said, “I have changed and it has helped me a lot and I have become one of the genocide survivors who give testimonies in Bugesera District. This also helps me to do my activities related to unity and reconciliation where I live better.” One of the NURC representatives who attended the previous forums in November 2018, said: “I have followed all discussions here and I have found that it relates to “Ndi Umunyarwanda program”
This has been confirmed as we have been invited by different districts to implement this program and we have also received invitations from faith based organizations. A positive aspect is our participants are giving their contribution where they live in dialogues about unity and reconciliation. A person from a marginalized group has participated in this forum and he was very happy to get a space to share their issues including discrimination. Kicukiro district is one of our partners and they have requested that we organize unity and reconciliation forums for local leaders of all sectors. They also want to address the issue of family conflicts in this forum according to the testimonies of those who have attended our forums and training.
Since starting to work with GER in June 2018, I have learned a lot of lessons that have been very important in my life, I have seen miracles! When I was contacted by CFOR the first time, I was very excited to get a job as an interpreter during their work in Rwanda; I didn’t realize how big the work was in terms of emotions and trauma! I did not hesitate when they asked me if I would be able to do the job. CFOR sent me all the information on what they do with GER in Rwanda, I went through their website and learned what they have done in the past and I said ‘’yes, I can do the job’’.
When the day came, I was able to accept to listen to painful testimonies, it was demanding and I had so many feelings. Before then I would never have imagined that I could listen to someone who was involved in Genocide. Since graduating in Translation in university, I have worked with survivors for many years, I have worked on different projects as a translator for them, I have done different translations and interpretation for testimonies but I didn’t want to work with perpetrators as being a survivor myself, I had bad feelings when hearing that someone committed Genocide, I would never attend any event where there were such dialogues between perpetrators and survivors.
My gratitude to Arlene Audergon (PhD) and Jean Claude Audergon for accepting my invitation for partnership and facilitating deep dialogues which are contributing to the process of reconciliation in Rwanda, and to CFOR Team, GER team and NURC for a good collaboration. If you would like to support this program please contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org