All Quiet on the Quaker Front

Some of my passions that tend to fall by the wayside in my work are for environmentmental stewardship, addressing global warming, and organic food.  But over the past few months Adrien, Désiré and I have been putting together a program to incorporate these along with our peace work all in one project.

The idea is rooted in a scholarship program for youth who could not pay their school fees that began last year within the Friends church in Kamenge.  Kamenge is one of the poorest parts of the city that saw a lot of violence during the war and is currently struggling to reintegrate many ex-combattatants and others who are returning after having fled the violence.

As in many communities in Burundi, when Hutu started attacking Tutsi after the 1993 death of Melchoir Ndadaye, Burundi’s first democratically elected, and Hutu, President, many Tutsi in Kamenge fled to areas that were protected by the military.  The military, which has long been dominated by Tutsi, then often made reprisal attacks on Hutu.  Still today many Tutsi live in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps to which they fled 15 years ago, with the result that neighborhoods are segregated by ethnicity and children have few interactions with those of the other group, allowing stereotypes and mistrust to flourish.

To address this, we expanded on the scholarship program to include youth from both communities (Hutu and Tutsi) and who form part of an ongoing program that meets weekly for group activities, including cultivating a community garden.  Other programming will include trauma healing and reconcilation modeled on our HROC workshops as well as life skills, community building, and environmental awareness training.

As we began the program three weeks ago, the first thing I noticed was that the kids definitely needed the scholarship help.  Some of them had already been kicked out of classes as a result of not paying their fees (around $30 per term), and so they were very happy they could now return to school.

And so far, it seems that the group is coming together well, with everyone working hard and at the same time having a good time singing songs and joking with each other.  On the second day we met, as we were preparing the land, it began raining and we just kept on working in the rain, which I thought was great fun, and created a great sense of solidarity.

So I’m looking forward to working with this group and getting to know each other.   And if you are interested in supporting this work, we are still trying to gather the funds to provide the school fees in the next term.  Please consider clicking on the “Donate Now” button on the right hand column of this blog and write “Kamenge Scholarship Group” in the donation note.  Thanks!


John McKendy, a regular reader of this blog and friend of mine, was killed on October 31, allegedly by his daughter’s estranged ex-husband.  John had come to Burundi the last two summers as a workcamper with the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), and in particular helped to build the clinic for the Friends Women’s Association.  In the process, he was one of the most thoughtful, caring people I have come across.  While he was here, we would stay up late at night having discussions, and he was always a great thinker and listener.  We continued to converse after he returned to Canada, and I came to depend on his support for me and the work that I’m doing here. 

John was sociology professor, an Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator in prisions in Canada, and was deeply committed to non-violence, and was planning to return to Africa next spring to teach the principles of nonviolence.  He also lived these principles, right up to the end, caring even for those who put him in danger.  In a message shortly before his death he asked that friends hold both his daughter and her ex-husband in the Light, as well as their families.

A small memorial service was held for him yesterday at clinic of the Friends Women’s Association.


Dear John,

I know, I know, you would not have wanted us to make such a fuss, would humbly have suggested that we just go about our own business.  But you should have seen it, John.  I don’t think you had a chance to be at a memorial celebration while you were here – this one was eight hours of sharing food, laughing, crying, singing, praying, and making cards to send your family.  Hours drifted by distantly to soft slow voices singing in harmony to the swaying boughs of the mango tree.

It might well take a degree in sociology to understand what such an event signifies.  You had well experienced the awkwardness of being an umuzungu, a foreigner, here.  Sometimes it feels that even when your intentions are good, you can’t quite escape the reverberations of colonialism, as your priviledge and status, freedom to leave, and inability to negotiate local norms and culture means that you are always trampling a bit heavily, always a little bit separate from the local people.  Yet here were 20 Burundians who have experienced the deaths of family and loved ones from war and poverty mourning the death of a white professor from Canada, with absolute sincerety and feeling.  There is something greater than what divides us, and you were part of that.  The people here mourned you because they saw the love and caring with which you lived, for all people, but especially for the least among us.

And you should have seen M_, with the many challenges that she has faced in her life, who once thought that rich people could never be good because they had always treated her so unfairly. M from whom words of prayer normally rain down in sheets, she could barely put words together, and she was largely unable to eat she was so distraught at the loss of you.

You were the first person I met who waved to everyone with both hands – always a smile, two-handed wave, and a greeting.  As I told you before you left, if I don’t remember anything else of you, I will remember you enthusiastically waving to the people of Burundi with both hands. 


AVP International GatheringSo it has been a while since my last post, first of all because of a month of traveling during which time I didn’t have internet, and then due to the flu which kept me rather occupied (sleeping) for the past week.

The first week of my travels was to the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) International Gathering in Kakamega, Kenya, which brought together more than 120 participants from 23 countries.  The gathering was an opportunity to find ways to strengthen our work, share resources and techniques, and generally learn from others’ experiences. Outside of the actual content of the conference however, I was most impressed just by the chance to meet so many inspiring people who are working to avoid violent conflict in their communities by gathering together groups of people at the grassroots.  To see how people had creatively adapted the framework of AVP to different conflicts and challenges was quite inspiring, and such a positive perspective from which to be learning about other parts of the world.

Sorting CoffeeThen I spent a week in Nairobi, generously hosted by a generous friend I met at the conference, and finally I spent two weeks in Bududa, a small town set in beautiful hills of eastern Uganda.  I had come to visit a friend of mine from DC who was in the Peace Corps there, and he played a great host.  I went on hikes, milked a cow, sorted coffee beans, and learned a little bit of Lugisu, the language most prevalent in that area (my favorite expression – as a way of greeting people: “Wakinyala!” i.e. “well done!”)  But Bududa is also host to a vocational school supported by the African Great Lakes Initiative, so I was able to participate in some of their classes, see the program they run for orphans, and was even put to work in helping to distribute money donated by Canadians to pay for school fees for orphans.

As a result, along with another volunteer from Canada, I spent six days traveling around southeastern Uganda visiting schools, meeting children, and distributing funds.  This was a great way to see the country a bit, but I’m not suggesting that this is a good way to go about social change.  Actually, in some ways it is rather problematic, given that there is no real sustainability to the program (the funds might not even be around next year), and no lasting relationships are really being built.  And there was some corruption amongUgandan school children the people we were working with, a few of whom included their own children in the lists to receive money, even as the money was clearly meant to be for orphans.  And I heard many stories of corruption in the region, which I’m not in a position to evaluate, but suffice to say it made me quite appreciative of the relationships that my coworkers have created over the years in Burundi, which seem to be quite trustworthy.

Also while I was in Uganda – I was part of a rather significant accomplishment.  Now people in East Africa often talk about how many people get packed into matatus (minibuses) in various countries.  I submit our achievement: in a matatu designed with 15 seats, we fit 27 adults, or 29 people if you count the two infants.  In the middle two rows alone, we fit 15 people (okay, so 2 of them were only partially in the matatu).  I’m sure it’s been beaten before, but it’s a personal best for me.

Well it’s been almost a month since I last wrote, which is perhaps a sort of unplanned summer vacation from blogville.  But I haven’t been just sitting around watching the Jacaranda trees bloom.  I’ve been working on grants of course, and also did some writing and interviews for AGLI’s newsletter Peaceways, which this quarter focuses on Burundi and includes more stories like a few that I’ve shared here.

At the health clinic run by the Freinds Woman’s Association that I also work for I participated in the distribution of donations contributed by friends and families of AGLI workcampers and myself (thanks again!).  It was a fun event, as we all cooked food together, and though I do a fair amount of cooking back in the US, I played the expected role of clueless foreigner, as I’ve never peeled tomatoes with a knife, stripped cassava leaves, or picked stones out of rice.

And the recipients, who are people living with HIV/AIDS, were quite greatful for the childrens clothing and other materials that they received.   In fact it felt a little bit like Christmas as they opened their bags delighted to see what they had received.

Coming up next: A trip to Kenya for the Alternatives to Violence Project Internation Gathering.  I leave Saturday on a 15-hour bus ride through Rwanda to Kampala, Uganda, and then take another bus on Sunday to get to Kakamega, Kenya.  So with any luck I’ll have some good pictures to share and a story or two when I get to the internet again.

Over the past month I have listened to the stories of more than 50 people in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and here in Burundi. They were people who had lived through conflict and had participated in trauma healing and reconcilaition workshops as part of our “Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) Program. I have learned many things from them and been inspired time again again by people’s resiliance and desire to achieve peace within their communities.

I will share just one more story with you, of Jerome who I met last week in Mutaho, Burundi. He asked us to publish and share his story, and though I have rearranged the order of his narrative and shortened it, it is otherwise as close as to his own words as I could come given the translation from Kirundi.

Jérome Birorewuname:

“There’s a gift I received in the HROC workshop. Two times I was taken, and people tried to kill me. I still have scars on my head, neck, and leg, shaped by a machete.

First, there was an old man there who had tried to kill me. He was like my father, he was my neighbor, and he had been feeding me with his kids, you know we were just like family. But surprisingly he was the one who brought the machete and cut my neck. They thought that I had died but I had not. I was with other people. They were even stronger than me, but they died immediately.

When I was in the HROC workshop, there is a session where you share about your sufferings,and that man shared about his sufferings. He claimed that during the massacres in our community he was not present, that he was in Cibitoke. I got angry because I knew he’s the one who took me to the killers. They had tied my arms in the back, and he was the one who was pulling me there. On our way to that place, he was telling me terrible things that I still remember. So because of anger, I walked out. I called one of the facilitators and I asked for a private time, so I may meet with that person.

Now before the training, each time we would see each other at the bar, he would run away immediately. This happened more than three times, so in the HROC training I had a chance to ask him, “Please, why do you run each time you see me when you are at the bar?” He said, “You know Jerome, every time I have been with you I was shameful, I didn’t have anything to say because I could not deny all the bad things I did to you, so I just tried to hide it. You know, I am the one who took your rabbits, I am the one who took your chickens, I am the one who took your hoes, and everything you had in your house, I took them. So I will ask you to write down all the things that you lost, and I will pay them one after another.”

I responded, “I have been living with soldiers, I could have asked them to come and kill you, or I could have told them to come and kick you out of the community. You know that there are many who are living in Tanzania in the refugee camp because of what they did. But I never wished you to be there because I know that they also are suffering.”

“I’m not going to kill you or ask you to pay. So please, don’t run anymore when you see me. You know, while you’re running you might fall into a hole and hurt yourself and maybe even die. Please believe that I really have forgiven you, and that I don’t have any bad wishes for you.”

So he was very, very happy. He could not understand it, because he knew what he did to me, and he was surprised to hear that I would not take him to jail or whatever but I have forgiven him.

But you know, I survived two times. I have not yet met with the ones who tried to kill me for the second time, but I am planning to ask the HROC facilitator to invite them and meet with them in a workshop so we can deal with our problem.

Where does that forgiveness come from? – Frankly, it didn’t take effort to forgive them so much as it took time. I have never been in prison, I am now 42 years old, but I would say that prison is not a good place to be. There are those who have been taken to prison, and now they are back home. I wonder if the relationship has been improved, I mean between the victim and the perpetrator. But I would say it would have worsened. And it would not prevent the perpetrator from planning other harmful things. But as I just let things go, I think it made a big impact on the person. Not as person myself, but believe that through my behavior there is another power that works through me to come and transform the person.

In a way I do not not understand why and how I did it, but I do know that I didn’t pay anything, and yet I believe that that will be a lasting relationship with my killer.

Very recently, I was just coming back from church, and by chance I recognized one of the people who had fled to Tanzania. He was surprised to see me, and he said, “are you still alive?” because he had been involved in the killings. “Are you surprised to see me alive?” I asked. “I really could never expect you to be alive” he responded.

At the time, he had a lot of luggage, and he was trying to find a bicycle taxi so he could go home and find someone to help him carry the load. The bicycle taximen were trying to charge him 3,000 Burundian Francs (about $2.50), when it should be only 500. And he was just arriving so he had no money. I told him, “Don’t worry, I have a bicycle. Take it, and you can bring it back to me when you’re done with it.. He looked me in the eyes and asked “Are you really giving me your bicycle?” “Yes,” I said, “And if anything bad happens to you, I would rather prefer it happening to my bicycle and you staying safe.”

Later, a friend from the internally displaced persons camp came to me and asked why I had given my bicycle to a Hutu who had just arrived from Tanzania. And I said, you know, there is this meat – indindura (Made from cow intestine, it is “the meat that changes things.” Normally it is given to women who are birth to girls so that she will give birth to boys.) If we agree that indindura is a delicious meat and we want change, then we need to eat it, give it to others to eat. You see these people that come from Tanzania, we are the ones to show them that we have changed. They have been away from the community for 15 years, so they don’t know where to go, everything has changed here. So unless we give them a warm welcome show them the way, they will never believe that Burundi has changed. So we need to show them we have eaten indindura, and everyone will understand.

When the man from Tanzania returned to his community he told them who gave him the bicycle, and he told them how he had been welcomed in the internally displaced persons camp. And that will improve the way the village people treat us, so that when go there, they will treat us as human beings, as friends.

That’s how we can make the change, that’s how we can make forgiveness take place, so that’s why I say forgiveness is important.

Once time when I was coming from the workshop, going home, some people asked me, “Where are you coming from?”

“I’m coming from the workshop.”

“Oh yeah? You must have received a big stipend for three days?”

“Big stipend?” I asked.

“Yes, of course if you are there for 3 days.”

“Yes, I received a lot.” I responded, and I gave him this example – “You know ugali (a doughy bread made from cornmeal)?”

“Yes, of course, I am Burundian, I know ugali.”

“Imagine that you have a big ugali in front of you, but your heart is bleeding, will the ugali take away the heart and bitterness from the wound in your heart?

“No,” he responded.

“That’s why I say it’s a lot of money, because I come home with peace. You know, even if they had given us those big big stipends, there would be no meaning in it for me because my heart was still bleeding. But now my heart is whole. So peace is more meaningful than money.”

My wish is for HROC to keep offering such healing opportunities to people. You know I have been at one worshop, I consider myself a member of HROC, I would be happy to hear HROC coming back to us saying, we need our members to come together again so that we can learn new things together. So please, do not abandon us. Come back and offer us new skills, help us to meet new people so that we can keep coming together again.”

Hearing this story, I was overwhelmed by Jerome’s simple yet piercing wisdom and his hopeful faith in a better future, grounded in depths of forgiveness that are hard to even fathom.

On a final note, it is my birthday to day, and so if you feel led to support this work, you can do so by clicking the “donate now” button on the right-hand column. I can’t think of a more meaningful present than to share in my passion to help bring people together who sincerely want to be able to move forward with their lives.

In my recent travels, I had the chance to learn more about the work of AGLI as well as other organizations involved in peace and development work. It also gave me a chance to reflect on the 11 weeks that I have spent so far in Africa. That is just a short time of course, but it is long enough to feel relatively at home here and even to start to become wrapped up the in the tangled complexities of being a “umuzungu” (which means both “white person” and also “rich person”), including the feeling of responsibility incurred by having access to opportunities to marshal great resources in a world of great material need.

It occurred to me that such a position has its dangers, and so one should carefully probe the depths of ones motivations. For the power to transform a person’s life – their ability to feed their family, heal from trauma, etc. – all for what people spend on a dinner at a restaurant in the U.S., could become intoxicating in a perverse way. In the extreme, it’s possible to imagine a megalomanic development worker who delights at the arbitrary exercise of his power to say yes or no to his supplicants.

Even in less extreme forms though, being a umuzungu is a position of power. And power pursued carelessly, for its own sake or from vanity, only reinforces the divide between haves and have-nots, white and black, American and Burundian. Doesn’t one, in “helping the needy,” simply entrench the privilege of helping others, a privilege that increases positively with wealth?

I once read a news article documenting the competition for status derived from philanthropy among multi-millionaires in Silicon Valley. Few of us will ever have the opportunity to join such a competition (and even fewer Burundians). But of course one also senses that there is something awry in this type of thinking. Wasn’t helping each other about more than quantities of things, and don’t we have more to give than our money?

Relatedly, coming from the perspective of outcomes, how do we know the addition of resources will make a difference in the long-term, when much of the trouble to date is rooted in mistrust, disunity, violence, feelings of shame and abandonment, and social exclusion?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angles, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

How true this strikes me as being, even if just thinking about it narrowly in relation to a relatively mundane, practical evaluation of the work of nonprofits. In particular with large nonprofits, while I believe they are filled with people with the best of intentions, one cannot also wonder how their work can be deep, transformative, and responsive to individuals when they are so thoroughly institutional and beauracratic. I suppose that right now my doppleganger that works for one of these big NGOs is right now writing a blog wondering how small NGOs can ever be effective. But for myself, I wonder how (or if) they try to ground themselves in a set of shared values, something that goes deeper than job descriptions and evaluation criteria.

Setting aside nonprofits and thinking just of individuals, I think people can tell when someone is really motivated by love, and my guess is that Burundians are quite adept at doing so. When one first arrives, it is possible to be rather overtaken by the displays of regard for being simply a white person. As I mentioned earlier, for example, merely having a white person at a wedding is considered special, and so one is (embarrassingly) ushered up to the front, to the most important seats. But one should mistake such fascination with a deep-seated respect or admiration, for those are to be earned through real dedication and love.

Love as I mean it here is not just a feeling one gets in the head, or heart; love is a selfless concern for the welfare of others, grounded in humility, deep listening and thereby understanding. And love is made real through action, including, but not limited to, the giving of material resources. To refuse to help would surely be to deny love, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The vision of the early Quakers (and in my reading of Christians, among others) is the transformation of the current world through love, from the redemption of the individual to the renewal of love between individuals to the restructuring of economic, political and social relations to be more equitable, just, peaceful and inclusive. The power of that kind of love is inestimable, and it is a power available to anyone willing to trust in it, regardless of income level.

“Development” should not be the use of wealth to spread merely aimless wealth to new corners of the earth, for, as John Woolman wrote:

Wealth is attended with power, by which bargains and proceedings, contrary to universal righteousness, are supported; and hence oppression, carried on with worldly policy and order, clothes itself with the name of justice and becomes like a seed of discord in the soul. And as this spirit which wanders from the pure habitation prevails, so the seeds of war swell and sprout, and grow, and become strong, until much fruit is ripened. (A Plea for the Poor (1793), Part X)

I feel honored to work with staff who not only have strong integrity and ensure our work is strategically sound, but who also do their work with sincere dedication and love. And as I see it, love is also a focus of our work, for trauma healing and nonviolence trainings are about showing people love and about reconecting people to love in their own lives.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 204 I just wanted to share a few more themes that cropped up in my interviews with HROC participants in DRC that I found instructive.

In the Mugungu I IDP camp, I sat with a group of HROC participants in a room made of plastic tarp. As we talked, gravel made from lava crunched underfoot and children looked in through the holes cut in the sheeting for the wind and giggled. People told me their stories in a straightforward, deadpan voice, even when they described terrible events that happened less than a year ago.

In some ways the strongest emotional inflection came when people discussed their hope for retuning to the good old days before the violence and ethnic stereotyping became pervasive. Some people wanted HROC trainings to help people to return to the world in which ethnic division and its attendant violence was not an issue. A variation on this was a longed-for return to their home village in a newfound peace and understanding between people:

I came from a place called Mweso. Before we ran away, we used to hide in the bushes – if you see someone coming, even if it is your relative, you hide…Later on we heard that other people also fled Ngungu so we also had to run and follow them. In Ngungu the fighting went on and they killed my husband. From Ngungu we came up here to Mugungu. When we got here in the camp, people used to come and deliver food, clothing, water, but no one had come to assist us with teachings like those of HROC. If we had received these teachings earlier, we would maybe have had different thoughts and would have known how to handle things or situations… More people need to be trained, so that by the time we go back home, we will go home like comforted people, and so that the tree of trust is planted within us (one of the themes of the workshop). That way we can go home with that knowledge and at least try to put the war behind us and get along with each other.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 164Some people received HROC or AVP trainings before the violence occurred, and they reported that it in a sense protected from being re-traumatized and thus better cope with the situation:

Before the training, we saw trauma as just a very strange thing that we are not even supposed to undergo. After receiving the trauma training here, the war again broke out…[this time however] we were not affected inside, which is how trauma effects you; we were able to manage and to handle the situation better because of the teachings. And that was where we saw the usefulness…we need more trainings because people are still experiencing or having the effects of trauma.

Another participant I interviewed in the town of Sake reported that in the past people fleeing from violence would only flee with people of their same ethnicity, while after a training they were able to flee with others. So helping people heal from trauma is not me backward-looking, but can help people to deal with ongoing violence and life difficulties. I learned of a woman who before a training was being beaten by her husband, even as she was the breadwinner for the family. Through the confidence she gained in the training, she decided to speak out for the first time, with the result that her in-laws intervened on her behalf and removed her husband to another area, allowing her to live in peace with her children.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 059 Others suggested that HROC trainings convinced them to abandon plans to join a militia to get revenge on those that had killed their family members. One person related how when he first arrived to the IDP camp he was so angry that he had plans to “start his own militia,” which got a good laugh out of the other people present.

Finally, one participant spoke from a belief that access to healing from trauma is a right:

People are no longer stable, they run away if someone just calls out “”hey!” So the [HROC] teachings can help us at the grassroots level, and at the same time reach the leaders. For we can be denied everything else, but we need peace, the peace that comes from putting our trauma behind us.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 152So after more travels than I expected (with a surprise trip around Burundi tacked on to my original plan) I am now back in Bujumbura, with computer access which means I will hopefully be able to a little more editing than my last post (sorry!) as well as include some pictures (top to bottom: Lake Kivu, Rwandan countryside, HROC participants and facillitators in Gisenyi, Lac Vert in DRC).

As I mentioned in my last post, tensions between Rwandans and Congolese in the border towns of Goma and Gisenyi are quite tense, and also overlaid by other intergroup (“ethnic”) tensions that were greately exacerbated by the recent conflicts. One person mentioned that in the volcano that leveled part of the city of Goma in 2002, some people said they would rather cross hot lava than cross the border – a bit hyperbolic perhaps, but it illustrates the point.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 046 So does the work of HROC help the situation? In Goma, DRC I attended the third day of a HROC training, at the end of which people testified about how the training had helped them. One woman, who I learned had cried a good part of the second day of the training, told the story of her troubles: She had been married to a person of another ethnicity, and when the violence came her in-laws cast her out along with her 7 children. While later her husband did help some of her children to attend school, it was still quite difficult to feed everyone, and so she had great hope that her oldest child would be able to provide income when she graduated from secondary school. On graduation day, though, her child had suddenly collapsed and died, along with the dreams of her mother.

Like many people who participated, before the training she had not had any opportunity to speak about or explore her trauma, or recognize that trauma is something that needs and can be addressed. The opportunity to share her story with others in the training allowed her to let go of the burden she felt and begin to move forward. She was visibly quite moved, and hers is only one story among many.

The stories of people living in the IDP camps were similarly both grim and also inspiring. People told me horrific stories of fleeing from violence, witnessing the death of loved ones and rapes, and then of the difficulty of living in the IDP camp. In the light of such terror, I wondered if people would find much use for a three-day workshop, and in my questions I also tried to probe whether they would just rather us help them to feed their families, educate their children, and improve the material living situation in the camp.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 119 But I left overwhelmed with the sense that HROC is deeply important to them. While there may be a tendency among participants to tell someone like myself what they presume I want to hear and thus only praise the program, I felt like it was possible to see beyond such superficial displays to get to authentic praise and statements of need. Person after person urged me to do what I could to conduct more trainings for their neighbors and countrymen. Some of them claimed that the trainings were more important than other material resources, because without healing they felt that they could not go on with their lives and thus food and shelter were of no real use.

Consider another example, told to me by a man in the Bulengo IDP camp who in September of last year witnessed 7 people being killed in his village. He and his wife hid behind a latrine while their house was burned, and they managed to flee through the forest and arrived in Goma. Afterward, though, they were so traumatized by this experience that they were not eating nor were they engaged in trying to improve their lives (everyone in the camp has to find some form of work since the food distributed is insufficient to live on). Before the training he wanted to see Rwanda_DRC_July08 216a doctor because he felt like his heart was beating too fast, but after the HROC training his symptoms went away and he shared what he learned with his wife.

Now AGLI has a rule of not giving out stipends to people participating in our workshops (in contrast to other NGOs, which sometimes give quite large stipends), but after the workshop all of his neighbors noticed the change wrought in him by the workshop so clearly that they were convinced that he must have received money. To explain what had instead transformed him, he brought out his workbook from the HROC training and began to teach his neighbors about trauma healing. As he told me this and urged me to help everyone in the camp to receive HROC trainings, he held his HROC workbook in his hand (like many of the participants), tattered from frequent use.

So the past week has been quite busy, as I traveled to Gisenyi in northwest Rwanda then across the Rwanda/DRC border to Goma, from where I visited two internally-displaced persons (IDP) camps and the town of Sake. (For a map of the area, as well as an interesting article about gorillas and charcoal, see the article in this month’s National Geographic).

In each place I visited, I interviewed people who led and who participated in HROC workshops (on reconciliation and trauma healing) to learn about the conflict in the region and about the effectiveness of the workshops. The conflict is quite complex, but for now let me just give a quick overview of the conflict as it relates to Gisenyi-Goma:

People speaking the language of Rwanda, Kinyarwandans, have been living what is now eastern DRC for over 100 years. Some of them migrated when the Belgians wanted to move more labor to the region, others arrived when Tutsi were fleeing violence with the rise to power of Hutu in Rwanda during independence. More Tutsi fled to the region during the 1994 genocide, and as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) ended the genocide in Rwanda and took control of the government, many Hutu fled to the region, some of whom were involved in commiting atrocities, others just fleeing a feared retribution.

Some of the Hutu who fled formed military forces with the intent of retaking power in Rwanda, which the Rwandan government was none too happy about, and so in 1996, with the stated purpose of overthrowing the ruthless kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, Rwanda and Uganda supported a successful military incursion into what was then called Zaire and installed Laurent-Desire Kabila (the First Congo War). Kabila included many Rwandans in his government, which angered some Congolese to the extent that he removed the Rwandans from their seats. Combined with the fact that Kabila had done little to stop the Hutu militia that still threatened Rwanda, Rwanda and Uganda embarked on a war against their former ally (the Second Congo War or the Great War of Africa). This one did not go so well for them though, as Angola, Chad, and others provided support for Kabila, and so the conflict fell into a stalemate. The countries involved signed a peace accord in 2003 and (largely) got out of the country, though there continues to be discreet involvement through support to rebel groups.

As it stands now (to simplify), the militias operating in North Kivu include the Hutu FDLR (some of whom were involved in the genocide, but many of whom were too young or just not involved), a group led by Laurent Nkunda who makes himself out to be the protector of the (Banyarwanda) Tutsi, and a number of other local militias called “Mai-Mai.” The result is that some Rwandans currently blame the Congolese for not disarming and handing over the FDLR, who they lump together as all being involved in the genocide, while some Congolese blame the Rwandans for invading their country and continuing to support Nkunda.

The resulting ill-will is palpable in Gisenyi and Goma, despite the fact that the two sides of what is really one city are very connected. People from Gisenyi go to the Goma side to do shopping, send their kids to schools in Goma, and so on, while people from Goma go to Kigali for healthcare, and so on. Yet each side blames the other for conflict, and even face being publicly criticized just for their nationality. Next time I will talk about how our workshops are helping to address this problem, as well as the ongoing conflict within DRC.

I’m writing from an internet cafe outside Kigali, where the midi music is blasting, and I only have time for a quick update. Next week I will be headed to Gisenyi in northwest Rwanda and then across the border to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I took the bus up from Bujumbura on Tuesday, about a 6 hour trip, and rolled into Kigali listening to country music such as “She got the rhythm and I got the blues.” That should tell you something about Rwanda – since the genocide in 1994 they have received considerable support from the US and other countries, to the extent that English is far more common than in Burundi. And since they have been rebuilding since 1994, it is definitely more developed than Burundi, from the fancy hotels and bustling tourism of Kigali to the presence of new schools and flower gardens out in the countryside. Which isn’t to say that everything is perfect here, but I have been surprised how, for example, the thinner, drier air here feels more like the air in Denver and makes me feel at home.

Yesterday I traveled with Emily Higgs, a fellow Haverford alum, to the genocide memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama. You can read her description of the memorial, or one of the many other accounts that have been written. Contemplating such horrors is obviously incredibly difficult.

Outside of visiting memorials, as we foreigners go around trying to see the effects of genocide, many find that there is a great disconnect between what occured in 1994 and the current feeling in the air. Perhaps this is also important for people to know, lest they think of Rwanda only as a country of former genocide, rather than as a country with a future.

In Jean Hatzfeld’s book Life Laid Bare, a Rwandan describes why this might be:

Sharing the genocide in words with someone who lived it is quite different from sharing it with someone who only learned about it elsewhere. In the aftermath of genocide, their remains, buried in the survivor’s mind, a wound that can never show itself in broad daylight, before the eyes of others. We survivors don’t know the precise nature of the hidden wound, but at least we know it exists. Those who haven’t experienced the genocide – they see nothing. If they make a real effort, they will one day accept the fact of this secret wound inside us. But that will take quite a while, even if these people are Rwandan or Burundian Tutsi, even if they lost families and close relatives in the killings. (p. 216-217)

So as I visitor here I have found that I must be constantly aware of the limitations of my perspective on what Rwanda has experienced, or is experiencing. No one, it seems, understood the genocide, not even those most involved in it, though they did see it. For outsiders, it is impossible even to be able to see what the genocide was — all we have are images and narratives of surreal events, which when pieced together add up to no coherent or comprehensible view of what the genocide was, or what it means for Rwandans today.

« Previous PageNext Page »