AKRON, Pa. – Daily family conflict controlled Jean Paul Hagenimana’s life. Pastor Prosper Muzaliwa was limited by his beliefs that excluded people. Clementine Uwimana was consumed by hatred for the ethnic group responsible for her mother’s death.
All of these people, embroiled in their own kind of personal turmoil, live in Rwanda, a country recovering from years of ethnic violence and tensions between Hutus and Tutsis and the genocide of 1994.
“In Rwanda people have difficulty trusting one another no matter who they are. They are a very traumatized society,” said Rebecca Mosley, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative for Rwanda and Burundi with her spouse, Paul Mosley. Both from Fallston, Md., the Mosleys live in Burundi.
This reality gets in the way of people earning a living because fear makes them think they need to survive on their own, even though this way of living is counter to African culture where helping each other is “key to their identity and a successful life,” Rebecca Mosley said.
Most Rwandese have no assets and just a few resources, so working together is the best way to survive, Mosley said. That’s difficult to do when you have been traumatized by your own neighbors, even your own family members.
As part of many efforts to address the situation, two Rwandan organizations offer reconciliation and peacebuilding as steps on the path to improved livelihoods. MCC supports both organizations, The Collective of Artisans of Peace and Reconciliation (CAPR) and Peace and Durable Development (PDD).
Hagenimana, who lives in the community of Kaduha, said he grew up in “a very poor family, divided and full of conflict to such a degree that my parents lived in nothing but conflict from day to day.” He said he was so deeply affected by this negative environment that he carried it into his own marriage and family.
However, Hagenimana said, during a CAPR training session, he learned about forgiveness and reconciliation. “I found the strength, even in my tears, to forgive my parents and to take steps to be reconciled with them.”
By doing so, he and his family now work together with a provincial committee, established and trained by CAPR, to implement small income-generating projects and a village savings program. The committee – using only members’ resources and no outside donor funding – has been able to buy 22 cows for its members and keep about $2,000 fluctuating in loans and repayments for small enterprises.
“I would like to thank CAPR and its partners,” Hagenimana said. “They have helped us to feed ourselves and to continue to build peace in our region, without forgetting that we need to also develop our own families in this process.”
CAPR also helped Pastor Muzaliwa widen his acceptance of people in his community. By taking the organization’s peace and reconciliation training, Muzaliwa learned that all Christians are brothers and sisters and friends, leading him to repent of his belief that he should only associate with people in his denomination.
“Now I can say that Christians of other denominations have become my true friends,” Muzaliwa said. This new belief allows him to work with other people in the community on agricultural and livestock projects and he spreads the message of unity as part of a peace committee.
“Our objective for the future is that all the churches of Kabuga might be unified by the Spirit and that they might work together for all our development,” Muzaliwa said.
MCC’s partner, PDD, offers peace and reconciliation training in northern Rwanda where violence continued four years after the 1994 genocide, leading to many civilian deaths and deeper poverty.
“As community members come together to learn, they find themselves able to forgive one another and move past their past conflicts,” Mosley said. “PDD helps these new groups continue to work together and meet together for the common benefit.”
Choosing forgiveness helps people break the bonds of depression and trauma that hold them back and gives them initiative to move on in life, said Mosley.
Clementine Uwimana said she was consumed with hatred for anyone who was Hutu, believing the ethnic group was responsible for the death of her mother during the unrest of 1973. “I lost my senses to such a degree that I was unable to continue my studies,” she said.
More recently, she said, she learned from a PDD-related group about working for peace and about how to forgive others. “After being convicted about this, I decided to forgive the Hutu people and to ask for forgiveness myself from my God.”
From the same group, she learned tailoring. With her new skill, she earns about $36 per month, enough to support herself and her daughter.
“I hope that our life will be good,” Uwimana said, “and that we too will be able to help build peace in our country, all as we help others move out of a life of hatred and poverty.”
Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC.