My name is Jeanne. I was born in Rutsiro district. I am now fifty one years old. I had almost thirty siblings; full and half siblings. They were almost all killed. Only I and one brother survived. He had joined the RPA at that time. I only realized the extent of my losses after I had gone back to my village some time after the genocide. There I found everything looted. My family property was partly taken by neighboring Hutus. Like me, my husband had also mysteriously survived the genocide.
Today, I live with my husband, two children and many adopted orphans in a small village, which was built by the local government for different categories of people whose houses had been destroyed by the river when its banks burst in the raining season of 2010. That is how we came to live close to a man called Claude, who had participated in the killing of my first two children. Claude had also attempted to kill me during the genocide, but thanks to God I survived. However, since that time I am physically handicapped and therefore physically useless. Living with Claude was for me a way of cross. I had decided to never see Hutu people again, especially not Claude. I hated him and everybody from his family. I was a stranger to myself and my life was meaningless. I had no hope left. I could not understand my own behavior and could not imagine that one day my eyes would have the courage to look at Claude and that I would socialize with him. I never thought of ‘forgiveness’, despite the fact that it was recommended to us by our leaders.
All reconciliation programs that came my way encouraged me and others to forgive, but I could not be convinced to do so. I had superficially forgiven Claude, but not from my heart. I could not greet him or visit him at home. How to greet somebody who had tried to cut one’s right hand? His and my children did not play together neither shared food and drinks with each other.
In 2014 I was invited to join a sociotherapy group in our sector. At first, I was very indifferent towards people who came to tell me about a program that, they said, would help me recover from my psychological suffering. Secondly, I could not believe that there was perhaps something that might help me to live again. My right hand had been broken. It had been crushed, pounded as one pounds cassava leaves. My head was useless. You can’t imagine what I went through.
The first two sociotherapy sessions were of no benefit to me whatsoever. I could not see the value of meeting with others in a socio-session. I had no trust in anybody and I had no sense of life. I could not imagine that it was perhaps time to restart a life that had been broken before. To be honest, very slowly a change for the better set in. During the fourth session I started to feel edified by what was shared in the group in terms of daily life problems and ways to cope with them. Pieces of advice given to me by group members as well as their attitude towards me while listening to me with care were altogether elements that helped me to look at things differently. During the first few socio-sessions, I could not talk in the group, I only cried while remembering my sad history. I kept having flashbacks of past events. I was really traumatized and suffered from permanent insomnia, continuous headache and dizziness. I was worried, thinking that my neighbor would come one day to “kill me again”.
Until the sociotherapy phase of memory I never stopped remembering everything that happened to me and my family during the genocide. However, the way I remembered started to change. Before sociotherapy, remembering for me was crying. But today I have a kind of strength that helps me to remember without crying. This change set in during the last two phases of sociotherapy. It is the same strength I got from my participation in the sociotherapy group that made me take the first step towards real forgiveness. When I forgave for the first time, after the Gacaca process, it was not at all from the heart.
After the genocide, I remained a Christian; however, not a Catholic one, because I failed to process what I had seen in the Catholic Church where I took refuge during the genocide. I became a Protestant. In addition to what I got from sociotherapy in terms of feeling alive again, being a Christian has been helpful as well. For instance, I always used to ask myself, what if I will find Hutu people in heaven. What if my perpetrator is forgiven by God and goes to heaven? What if heaven exists and we will meet there? In response to my questions I concluded that it was for my own interest to forgive. I eventually found an opportunity to meet with my perpetrator when I had invited him and his family for a ceremony at my house. I was not at all sure that they would come. Surprisingly, as is a custom in our culture, they sent their contribution to the party (a basket of potatoes and one thousand Rwandan francs) before the start of the ceremony and they participated in the whole ceremony. I experienced this as a success. It was my first time to shake hands with my neighbor Claude since 1994.
I do recognize the power of the group in sociotherapy. I can honestly say that the group has been a source of strength for me. The group gave me self-confidence and gave me back the taste for life after all the suffering I and my family had gone through. I have no doubt that my decision to heal through forgiving has also helped Claude, my perpetrator. Today, we share everything in the neighborhood. My children spend a big part of their time in Claude’s house and Claude’s children in mine. It is like I opened the window that Claude had always wished to open but could not because of the shame he carried with him. Both of us are a good example of reconciliation. I wish for Claude that one day he will participate in a sociotherapy group. Perhaps he has some other windows to open for himself or for others.
Nicolas Habarugira Field Coordinator-Western Province