Church, History, & Truth-telling


Solange was 5 years old in 1994, yet parts of the genocide are brittle and clear. When the slaughter started in April, she learned that her family is Tutsi. Solange lost two older brothers; and her sister who was just 11 years old. All four of her grandparents were murdered. And she had two aunts and three uncles who were killed.

It was a strange time. Nothing was predictable. You wake up from your mattress one day to ruckus and chaos, and the next day only a deathly silence. In April, Solange and two sisters were stowed at a neighbor's home (Hutu) where five children were living. After three weeks these Hutu friends ran out of food and they sent Solange and her sisters back home. Solange's father had been assaulted and left with a huge wound on his scalp. Her Dad never fully recovered from the wound, going in and out of hospitals until he died in 2011. After the genocide, her Dad couldn't work and money was very scarce.

AVP exercise on structural violence
AVP exercise on structural violence

Growing up post-genocide was difficult: society was chaotic. Many Rwandans in 1994 fled the killings, and for years afterward there was still fleeing, escaping and returning home. "I lost so many friends in primary school." Solange sighed. She had Congo, Burundi and Uganda classmates. In 1995 a Hutu neighbor escaped from the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) to Congo. Solange says, "I lost these childhood friends, and then I got new ones."

Solange was raised Catholic but the genocide left her disillusioned. Her Aunt Angelic, like thousands of Tutsis, took refuge in Nyamata parish church on April 14th. Ten thousand were killed that day. The priests colluded with the Hutus, letting the murderers go rampage with hoes and machetes. The Bugesera district around Nyamata was flowing with blood. Before 1994 Nyamata had about 120,000 residents. Ten years after the genocide, the population of the town was estimated at 12,000.Read more

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of HIPP

imageDoes the generation now in their 20s, born after the genocide, concern themselves with peace and justice? Peacebuilding is more than non-violence. Nor is it an individual endeavor. To work for peace (inside and out) is to work for your salvation. Rwanda Friends, like many churches around the world are loosing their young people. They move away from churches trying to get an education, to get a job, or to explore where they can most use their talents. Some stop coming to church at age 13 (sound familiar?) and more leave after high school at 18.

A few Rwandan Friends sought antidotes to the youth diaspora in the Quaker church. They saw young people who held little hope, many not having enough money to pay for school, 14 year olds dropping out of school. Some youth wonder what happened to uncles, or grandmothers or their cousins. At family reunions young people felt gaping holes, and few Rwandans explain why older cousins were killed, or why uncles were in prison.Read more

What is a PeaceBuilder?

Daniel and daughterEveryone wants peace, but not everybody works for peace. how does a person move from a passive bystander who favors a peaceful world, to someone who intentionally works actively for justice and peace? To find out I talked to a Rwandan Quaker who's an indisputable peacebuilder.

Daniel Nteziyaremye is a 34 year old father of two young daughters. He speaks three languages and, like all Rwandans born before 1994, he's a survivor. As I learned from Palestinian Quakers: Hope is not a feeling, it is an action. Daniel's life shows that peacework includes your mind, heart and hands. But this story starts with a dark part of his life.

Surviving Genocide

During the genocide Daniel was exposed to dying-- he watched people riveted with fear, and witnessed hysterical grief. His Mom was stopped 6 times in 1994 by the Interhawme—they considered killing her just by her looks. As a 13 year old, Daniel and his siblings surrounded their Mom crying and hugging her. With this swarm of protesting children, the militia let her go, saying they'd finish her off next time.Read more

Rwandan Photos, February–March 2016

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What Do You Tell our Children?

imageTragedy is impossible to measure. It's the same for beauty. I sit in my backyard and hear above the graceful soar of the olive ibis. This bird, with a curved pointed beak and rasping call, has a dark beauty. When it speaks it can be heard for miles, Cahaw, Cahaw, Cahaw. The memory of Rwanda's horror is in this call, just as it is soaked into the brick-like soil-- it is etched on the back of my throat. Machetes worse than swords. A baby's blood running down the mother's arms. Legs that run, that hide, that run, that collapse in the hush of tall grass. It was 23 years ago. It was just yesterday. It was genocide.
The genocide memorials in Rwanda have an momument with the place for an eternal flame. Ntidigasubire- Never again. Is that a hope: is it a promise?
imageThe memorials are many; in Bisesiro, Gisenyi, Nyarubuye,... They host mass graves—here 35,000, there 12,000, over there 300,000. The sites are, for the most part, desolate. The guides are survivors with subdued voices. Standing at the edge is a sentinel with a big cap, rubbing his boot on the soil, blotting out something unspoken. The heinous acts at these memorials hang in the acrid air. The birds fly overhead--who will remember?Read more

The Dark Night of Trauma: Finding Light

imageRwanda and the USA have one thing in common—violence at home has erupted wildly in the last 30 years. Both countries need immense healing from trauma. You may think of healing as a soft, fuzzy kind of work. Trauma healing can be tender, but even more, it's tough work. This healing has a real impact on whether within our countries we stop murdering each other. Killings usually lead to trauma, and unhealed trauma leads to insecurity and often more violence. It's a huge deal which deserves our attention.

A research scientist, John Gottman, found that when our pulse rises 10 beats above normal, the rational part of our brain begins slipping out of gear. We start reacting from our reptilian brain. We literally start to 'loose it.' This happens if we're arguing about who uses the shovel, who cleans the dishes, who wins the presidential candidacy, struggles around disputed territory or fear from a terrorist attack.Read more

Umuganda Sustains Life

imageOn Saturday I took the 15-cent bus (moomoogee) down to Kigali center. I wanted to buy African fabric, but to my dismay, I found many stores closed--those local stores with hand-made items. Do you want to know why? Soon after President Kagame came to power, he instituted community meetings on the last Saturday of the month. The monthly Umuganda meetings are obligatory for all Rwandan adults. These meetings start at 9, include announcements, and then all do public work project.

Umuganda can be for building schools, digging ditches, or rebuilding widows' houses from mud huts to cement hygienic abodes happened. Umuganda has helped in the physical rebuilding and also the knitting together socially differing groups. Rwandans never refer to former ethnic groups. In recent years Umuganda focuses often on environmental projects: protecting erosion or the planting trees.

imageIn 2014, President Kagame called upon all Rwandans to join hands in eliminating the root causes of stunted growth in children through a program, Kitchen Gardens, supported by Umugandas. The proliferation of kitchen gardens across the country could see steady gains against nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition.Read more