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Looking back, moving forward

 “It is very difficult to move on, but I have to keep trying,” says Beate Mukanguranga, who at 45 still struggles to heal the wounds caused by the genocide that devastated Rwanda in 1994. Mukanguranga survived the massacres that went on for almost 100 days, but like many Rwandan women, she suffered multiple sexual assaults. Her daunting and contradictory challenge of moving on yet not forgetting what happened two decades ago is shared by many of her fellow citizens. “We have to live together and forgive each other so we can build the nation together,” says Ildephonse Karengera, a director at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide. The country has progressed considerably since 1994, but the crisis is far from resolved. “The biggest humanitarian challenge now is not ethnic, but economic,” adds Eric Ndibwami, 46, a Red Cross volunteer since 1991, referring to the country’s chronic poverty. As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide that began on 7 April 1994, Red Cross Red Crescent magazine asked citizens and local Red Cross volunteers about their difficulties, hopes and aspirations.
By Anita Vizsy.

Suffering on all sides

Jean-Pierre Mugabo, 25, lost his mother during the violence in 1994, while his father died in prison after being implicated in the atrocities. Today, he makes a living from part-time jobs and lives in a house provided by the Rwandan Red Cross as part of a programme to help orphans and vulnerable children affected by the genocide. Now that the country is stable, he hopes that things will get better. “When the country is peaceful, the people are peaceful too and they can serve their country well,” he says.

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Speaking out for a brighter future

During the months of violence in 1994, thousands of women were subjected to sexual assault. Vestine Mukasekuru, 35, was one of them. Raped many times from the age of 15, she is now a mother of four children, two of whom were born as a result of sexual assault. The father of her first daughter was also the man who killed her entire family. “I knew him. He was my neighbour. Whenever he felt like it he came for me.” The second child born after a sexual assault was due to a rape by a government soldier. Today, she belongs to an organization that helps rape victims and their children cope. As a result of counselling from this organization, she is able to discuss what she lived through. “It happened to most of us, but only few are able to speak out.” Despite all her difficulties, including some initial discrimination within her community because she had a daughter of the ‘enemy’, she is positive: “I can see a brighter future. As a result of reconciliation, all things will be possible.”

Asking for forgiveness

Innocent Habyarimana, 55, is a father of three children and enjoys the quiet life of a farmer. During the genocide, he took part in the violence against the Tutsi population. Convicted for multiple murders, he spent nine years in prison. Today, he is full of regret and has asked his fellow community members for forgiveness. “I heal myself by making friends and helping the people I once harmed,” Habyarimana says, adding that he will never again be led to believe that people are fundamentally different because of their ethnicity. “We are all the same, nobody can come back now and convince me otherwise.”

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Hurt but not broken

When meeting 27-year-old Jacqueline Gatari Uwamariya, it’s hard to imagine this bubbly, colourfully dressed woman — known to everyone as ‘Shoushou’ — survived unimaginable horrors when just a young girl. Her family was killed and her home burned to the ground when she was only 7 years old. Today, she is standing strong to demonstrate that what happened 20 years ago did not break her spirit. The Rwandan Red Cross provided her with housing and membership in an income-generating livestock cooperative. “The Red Cross gave me the foundations for living and I wanted to give back,” she says. “So I became a volunteer.” Later, she took a job at the Red Cross and now lives in a new home, one that she built from her own earnings.

A new family

“No one can help you but yourself,” says 25-year-old university student Felix Uzabintywari, who lost his family during the genocide. Although the Rwandan Red Cross helped him gain a fresh start — paying his school fees, providing a home and some livestock — he knows he has to stand on his own two feet. “The Red Cross is my family. They’ve given me the chance for life.” Now he says it’s up to him to study hard and make the most of the opportunity. The task for Rwandans of all ethnicities, he adds, is to learn to see the common humanity in one another. “If we all have the same colour blood, how could we be different?”

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Photo: by ©Juozas Cernius

Living on

“I can’t preoccupy myself with pain, because then I would die tomorrow,” says Esperance Mukandemezo, 62, with a smile. “I must be happy and live on.” A Red Cross volunteer since 2006, she says the genocide has left her with a deep and inner urge to help others. Still, complete forgiveness is a daunting task. Mukandemezo herself watched her husband, mother and sisters being killed among many others. “It is difficult to live with people that you know did something bad,” she says, adding that reconciliation is crucial. “We are all Rwandan, we must live together... Rwandans are sick. Both perpetrators and survivors. All feel pain. Some feel loss, some regret. We have to find the medicine for the illness and the only remedy is reconciliation.”


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