This week marked the start of the 22nd memorial period of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It commenced on the 7th April, and will continue on for the 100 days of the genocide. It is an important time not only for Rwandans to remember, unite and renew, but also for the rest of the world to remember and to learn.
Through the Empower program, we are constantly confronted with how much trauma, hurt, pain and suffering Rwandans are living with every day, even 22 years on. But we are also continually amazed at people's strength and at how much Empower is impacting lives. Here's a recent testimony (names have been changed to protect privacy) -
Lisa is a single mother and is now 42 years old. Before the genocide, Lisa’s mother died due to illness. Lisa lived with her two younger siblings and her father. She became pregnant and had a child. When the genocide started, the killers came into their house but when they saw this baby smiling at them, they left without harming anyone. Lisa’s father decided to give his children to a Hutu friend in order to hide them there. He himself went somewhere else, because he was afraid of witnessing the killing of his children. The next day Lisa heard that her father was killed and also who had killed him. It was their neighbour, called Anthony. She was really shocked to hear how her father had been killed - that he was stoned to death. As a result, the Hutu family ask Lisa and her siblings to leave the house and run away. On the road they were caught by a group of perpetrators who then killed her brother, but released the two sisters and the baby. At this point, Lisa was dying inside but she continued to flee and she survived together with her sister and her son. After the genocide, Lisa took responsibility for being a parent not only to her son, but also to her sister and her two cousins. She never got married or had other children. After the genocide, meeting Anthony was unbelievable for Lisa - she had huge hatred in her heart. But she met Anthony in Empower. We weren't aware of their conflict beforehand, and so Anthony and Lisa attended the same Empower and were in the same small group. Lisa was so quiet and Anthony was just looking at the floor. But on the sixth day of Empower, Lisa shared her story and all her wounds and feelings of hatred and anger in her small group, with Anthony sitting there and listening to her. Finally, she made the decision to forgive Anthony publicly and afterwards Anthony asked for her forgiveness. From this day, Lisa started to laugh and smile, which was impossible before. Everyone could see this change.
Our aim is to enable at least 36 participants to go through Empower each month - and we'd love to double that to two programs every month, giving people access to vital trauma counselling, rehabilitation and reconciliation training, that truly impacts and transforms lives. It costs $120 to sponsor one participant through the Empower program - click here to make a donation and change a life!*
We're also conscious especially at this memorial time, of the deep mistrust that exists in Rwanda, due to the tragedies people have experienced. During March and April, Vanessa Hall of Entente spent time with our partners in Rwanda, sharing training on trust and exploring together with them how we can rebuild trust in individual relationships and in communities. We're looking forward to continuing to develop the follow up programs to Empower, to further impact communities as people re-engage with each other and rebuild their lives