In February this year, I had the opportunity to visit Rwanda with Karen and Marty (and Judah!), to experience Rwanda and see Compelled By Love’s partner projects at work. It was 11 days full of amazing experiences. During our trip, we did a lot of driving! Although some trips were extra long, I watched out the window as we made our way around and it was beautiful. The green hills with pockets of houses and farming land was picturesque - they’re not kidding when they call Rwanda the land of one thousand hills!
We spent time with CARSA, one of CbL's partners, visiting the February Empower program. Here is a bit of context before you read all about our visits! Empower is a week-long program which helps participants to begin healing from their trauma of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people. Not only does it teach coping mechanisms which people can use on a daily basis to make their every-day life better, it helps start a process of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness with the ultimate goal of making a broken person whole again. The program facilitates 36 people at a time and so far this year, 216 people have been able to complete the program!
We were able to visit the Empower program on two different days. This gave me great insight into how the Empower program works and the effect it can have on people. The thing that amazed me most was that victims and perpetrators were able to be and work together. This to me shows the amazing effect the Empower program has on individuals and groups. A common theme for both days was about getting rid of poison - the poison of hurt, trauma and unforgiveness. Both days, the facilitators showed participants ways to get rid of the poison. There were practical techniques designed to calm the mind and body to relieve stress and assist with sleeping. These were great as it gave day-to-day coping techniques making everyday life easier. The burden of unforgiveness was demonstrated by carrying many bags full of poison that weighs us down, however when the bags are removed you are able to move on.
One afternoon, we spent time with a cell group called ‘ABUNZUBMWE’, which means ‘those who are united’ – a very fitting name. They started with just 8 people who had participated in Empower in 2015 but now have 62 members. Those who have completed Empower, pass on the lessons and knowledge to help others, as well as maintain what they have learnt. The cell group continues to grow and is an amazing example of courage and persistence. I found this experience very touching as both victims and perpetrators were working together to rebuild relationships and community. Some shared stories of how they asked for forgiveness and were reconciled with one of their victims. We were also able to visit a pair’s cow, as part of the Cows for Peace program. A victim and perpetrator both care for a cow, sharing the responsibilities and making them work together, continuing to make their relationship stronger. This is an amazing initiative as it provides opportunity by owning a cow, helping them to get above poverty.