The last few days of our program in Rwanda have been inspirational, enlightening and emotional. Starting with inspirational, we met with the Women’s forum for parliamentarians where we had our own seats in parliament for a question and answer session. This informative meeting provided an historical overview of the conditions and processes that have resulted in the prominent role that women now play in Rwanda’s political process. The host and main spokesperson was Forum Chairwoman, Ms. Connie Bwiza Sekamana. Rwanda leads the world in seats for women in government and although society is culturally male dominant, we witnessed a presentation from the women that showed us men will have to adjust as women continue to play a more critical role in Rwanda’s politics.
Above Director of SIT program, Adin Thayer with member of women’s Parliamentary forum and My dear friend, Mukhtari in his seat of parliament
Our next meeting was enlightening, as we visited a catholic school and Parish in Kigali and met with a Pastor Antoine Ritayisire who discussed his approach to community reconciliation. We discussed issues based around the emotional scars of the genocide that have left their mark on Rwanda’s young children and teenagers. Many questions were posed about the psychological problems associated with a country so soon out of conflict and the difficulties of teaching what may not always be reinforced in the home and through existing programs. The Pastor began by recognizing that Rwanda’s past internal strife had –and continues to have – a destabilizing effect in the region.
The next day we visited the association of Youth Development (AJMD) a Muslim Youth group whose programs include a sustainable gardening to increase the nutritionvalue for the families and programs for literacy education and capacity building for the organization members.
Here we learned about the role of Muslim leaders during and after the genocide. The Muslim Youth Leader explained that according to Islam “if you save one person, it is as if you saved the whole world ” . Many Muslim leaders helped save people during the genocide by providing shelter in homes and mosques. They also particpated in the Gacaca process by offering witness testimony in many cases.
One of the more emotional visits of the week was our visit to the work site of TIG (Travaux D’INteret General), work camps where those who confessed and were convicted of crimes of genocide perform community service. We met with 7 men TIG workers and one women. Watching their faces it was hard not to envision the horrific nature of the crimes they may have committed. Someone from home asked me, “did you feel angry or scared of these people”? What I learned from understanding TIG and the Gacaca proceess is that those who confessed and were sentenced to TIG, were painfully remorseful for having participated. The years of arduous work to rebuild their country helps them heal frome the shame of their crimes. Those who did not confess to their crimes in this way are still in jail today. The TIG prisoners were quiet and answered only a few questions but when I approached them to shake their hand and bless them, they lit up with thanks, their eyes teared and you could see their pain and suffering. These people were victims as well. Out of respect for the prisoners, I have no photos of the TIG work or camps.
Hope you won’t miss my next post of our last day in Rwanda and trip to filled with creative ways to resolve conflict and heal. …On the way to Uganda!