Seventeen years ago today began a 100-day
genocide in Rwanda where a million people perished--and the world just
sat and watched it happen.
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya where
there is access to oil, Rwanda had no notable resources to obtain so
world governments, NATO and the United Nations offered no help. Rwanda
was on its own as the Hutu government reigned terror on 15 percent of
the country's people, the Tutsi, in an attempt to rid the land of its
Today, not surprisingly, 100 percent of the
people are traumatized by the genocide--survivors and perpetrators
alike, according to priests and human service professionals I talked
with last November when I visited the country.
Deep pain, guilt, embarrassment for
surviving and the urge for retaliation remain in the hearts of many
people, said Philippe Ngirente, a social service director.
Children share the same classroom with
those whose parents were killed and those whose parents are in prison on
suspicion for genocide crimes, said Nzeyimana Alays, a high school
headmaster. Violence breaks out and schools are not always safe.
Children can't concentrate or learn and teachers can't teach.
Every village in Rwanda had instances of
genocide, said Narcisse Ntawigenera, a psychologist. People suffer from
flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, headaches, stomachaches and other
psychosomatic symptoms. Families and neighbors of mixed ethnic
backgrounds still have hard feelings.
Meanwhile, the country remains desperately poor with about 60 percent of the population living below the poverty line (http://data.worldbank.org/country/rwanda
Poverty is generally defined as the lack of basic human needs, such as
clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter,
because of the inability to afford them.
Mass migrations have taken place
since 1959 when Tutsi refugees spilled into the neighboring countries of
Burundi, Congo, Uganda and Tanzania because Hutu regimes preached hate
and discrimination. President Paul Kagame, who led the rebel army
against the Hutu government in 1994 and subsequently quelled the 100-day
genocide, was among those Tutsi families who fled to Uganda.
Since the Tutsi takeover of government, 3
million Hutu have left the country, some of them still lusting after
Tutsi blood. This massive dislocation of the population is unsettling
for Rwandans as well as for their neighbors who are forced to host
refugees they don't want. Meanwhile, Rwanda remains one of the poorest,
most densely-populated countries in the world with scarce resources to
the priests, teachers, health care professionals and social workers I
met there were inspired, energized and ready to take on the task of
healing their country.
"There is no other place for people to go," Ngirente said. "We must get along."
The Kagame government desperately wants
this to happen as it continues to try to stabilize the country through
policy and economic development. Reconstruction abounds in downtown
Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The effort to appeal to
multiculturalism is also apparent in the vast array of Western and Asian
restaurants available there. A massive hotel and conference complex is
being built to attract tourists and businesspeople. English was
declared the official language of Rwanda last year. (Kinyarwanda and
French are also the official languages.)
the Catholic Church has become a major player in taking on the task of
emotional and spiritual reconstruction in this predominantly Catholic
country. They do it through the reconciliation of genocide survivors
and perpetrators. This is one of the reasons why Bishop Jean Damascène
Bimenyimana recently assigned Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, a parish priest who
is well known for his healing work of reconciliation, to full-time
leadership in establishing the Center for the Secret of Peace in
Cyangugu. (Fr. Ubald says the secret of peace is forgiveness and
Fr. Ubald is a lively, energetic, tireless,
can-do and charismatic man who has been likened to Martin Luther King,
Jr. He can't walk down the street without people stopping him to talk
and he constantly receives cell phone calls from people asking for his
prayers, including those he has met in Europe and America while he
solicited funds to buy the land for the Center. One reason why Fr. Ubald is so
effective is that during the genocide he lost 80 members of his own
family, 30,000 members of his parish and he barely escaped the terror
himself. This is why he has made healing his country's wounds his
passion and the focus of his ministry.
One of the priests, Fr. Charles Ntabyera,
probably summed it up best about the way Rwanda's leaders think of their
nation in the world.
"We are like David of the Old Testament,"
said Fr. Charles. "He was the smallest and youngest among his brothers
and often overlooked. Then he was chosen by God to fight Goliath,
liberate his people, and become king of his nation. Why couldn't Rwanda
lead the way for healing itself and the world from violence?"
should take note of what can happen when a country allows itself to be
consumed by hatred, poverty and division. Americans should also
recognize what it takes to heal such evils that are all too easy and
convenient to adopt in order to win elections or gain attention in the
Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...