Rwanda Journal #8: Grief, Forgiveness, New Friendships and Selfies
Today’s journal entry is going to be exceptionally short. While the day was filled with amazing memories, I am operating on three hours sleep (too much Rwandan coffee yesterday!) and less than ideal working conditions. My “office” tonight has me perched on the edge of the bathtub in my hotel room, the only place I can muster up even a one bar of internet connection. If your first reaction is, “Ewwww, yuck!” then you haven’t seen some of the sights I’ve been privy to in the past two days.
Each of our stops on today’s agenda were remarkable and will merit future expanded journal entries. For tonight, since I simply must sleep, I’m just going to share a line or two on each of our stops and a few photos. I find that with each passing day, I fall more in love with Rwanda and especially with her people. This trip has launched a voracious appetite to see more of this continent of Africa, but also to hopefully come back here to Rwanda some day soon to spend more time.
National Unity and Reconciliation Commission
While I’m learning that there is so much more to Rwanda than the country’s amazing recovery from the 1994 genocide, today’s first stop at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission provided greater context for answering the question of how so much progress could have been made in less than twenty years. 100 Days, over one million souls lost, and yet today this country is able to function not only peacefully, but also cohesively. Our first stop this morning was to attend a presentation at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission by Deogratis Nzabonimpa, the Commission’s Director of Administration and Finance. His informative talk provided both a historical context for events leading up to and during the genocide, but also a roadmap to Rwanda’s profound social and economic recovery in the twenty years since the devastation. I will share the details of the talk in a future post, but want to thank Director Nzamonimpa personally for the time he spent educating us.
Karmonyi Women’s Genocide Survivor Community
Immediately following our Commission orientation, we took a prolonged drive out of the Kigali city center and into the countryside, where city buildings give way to massive green hills covered with small agricultural plots. Our winding road took us eventually to a dirt cart path sprinkled with large rocks, where we were greeted by a community of Genocide survivors who are predominantly widows. These women have chosen to live in community and have been supported in recent years by Catholic Relief Services. Our meeting with the widows took place in an open field surrounded by goats and their small housing structures. The photo you see above features the restroom they kindly opened for us, as well as some of the amazing personalities who shared their stories of loss, survival and community with us. While there were men and children gathered with us, it was clear to me that these matriarchs have forged a bond that has allowed them to not only survive horrific loss and grief, but also to become a support and a family to one another. I could have stayed at Kamonyi all day. One lasting impression of this place is the reminder that our donations to Catholic Relief Services, modest though they may sometimes be, can have a profound and lasting impact on the lives of the families support by CRS. These widows were quick to thank us for the goats that had been gifted to their community in the past year from CRS. For less than the price a family of four would pay for a dinner out at home in the US, an equivalent donation could be a lifeline to people living on the edge of devastation.
Rugango Parish, Huye
Following a delicious lunch in Nyanza, we had another exciting drive through a rain soaked dirt “road” to Rugnago Parish in Huye, where Catholic Relief Services has partnership programs with the local community. Our first meeting was an intimate conversation with members of the Community Healing and Reconciliation Program where we witnessed genocide perpetrators and survivors sharing their testimonials about the reconciliation they have built in the years since the genocide. One after the next, standing in pairs, a genocide survivor who had lost his or her family and livelihood to mass murder and theft stood partnered with the perpetrator who had killed their loved ones. Time after time, they emotionally told both sides of their stories and finished with a message of renewed forgiveness and an embrace. I have several videos of these moments that I will be sharing in the weeks ahead. For the second time of the day, I was overcome by emotion and moved to tears.
Our day ended on a high note as members of the parish community’s “SILC Akazi Kanoze Youth Group” serenaded us with an original composition of song and dance. Supported by Catholic Relief Services, the youth program encourages savings, investment and community service aimed at building financial prowess and civic pride — set amidst a firm commitment to faith values — amidst Rwanda’s youth. Wait until you see the video of the welcoming song these young entrepreneurs prepared for us! We were treated to a tour of one SILC member’s financial project — a tomato farm that would rival many organic operations that I’ve seen in the Central Valley. Following our formal meeting, I had the chance to snap a few “selfies” with my new Rwandan friends. It became clear today that Rwandan youth and children are definitely not camera shy! All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to these teens and young adults who had so swiftly stolen our hearts.
With this brief recap, I hope you gather a sense of the extraordinary experience we Egan Fellows are having here in Rwanda with Catholic Relief Services! God willing and Internet cooperating, I’ll be back tomorrow evening with another installment of my Rwanda Journal.