My name is Aline (borrowed). I was born in 1981 in Rulindo District. I have four children: two boys and two girls. My parents divorced when I was three years old. My mother left with my younger brother and younger sister. My other younger brother and I stayed with my father, who remarried. His new wife beat me and my brother, and she did not feed us. This continued until the war and genocide started. We then went to a refugee camp in Congo. There, my father got seriously sick. As my stepmother did not take care of him and us – she only bought food for her own children – my brother decided to live on the street. My father used to give me some money for food so that I would not die of starvation.
After my father died, life became worse. In the beginning, I stayed with my stepmother. I would fetch water and sell it so I could buy some food. Eventually I figured I could not eat without working and found a job as a house girl. It was an unpaid job. In exchange for my work, I would get shelter and food. In that period, I was depressed and did not have any interest in life. I was therefore very happy when I later found my mother in the refugee camp. I had missed her for so many years. I thought that finally my life was going to make sense. She took me to her home. However, her new husband mistreated me while my mother did not take care of me. I moved to my aunt, who respected me and cared for me.
When we returned to Rwanda a couple of months later, I went to live with my grandparents. My relationship with them was good, but I ended up in a conflict with them after I sold a small part of their land to start a business. My grandparents demanded the revenue of the land, but I refused to give it. I left my grandparents and went to my uncle’s house in the same area. From there I started with my commerce, but unfortunately, I got pregnant. From then on, my life situation became worse. I was chased away by my uncle’s wife, and the man who had impregnated me did not want to be with me.
I found myself branded as a prostitute, and rejected by everyone. Luckily, another uncle gave me shelter, where I remained for many years. Life was not easy because we were very poor. Still, I was very patient and eventually started to build a small house for myself. My siblings came to live with me in that house, but there was no common understanding between us. We were fighting every day. As a result, we constantly consulted the local leaders to solve our problems. We separated and lived like enemies, but the conflicts continued. In this situation, I gave birth to a third child. I was disappointed and frustrated because the father did not take me as his wife. Overall, my life was in disorder. I had to raise three children by myself. Since I was not taken care of by anyone when I was young,I did not know how to properly take care of my own children. I did not respect anybody and I was very depressed.
When Gacaca courts started I was requested to pay reparation fees for properties damaged during the genocide. I felt cursed within the community. As a way of self-defense,I was very impolite towards other people. I had a grudge against everyone, and I lived very isolated. As a result – also because I was very dirty and careless – I was considered demented by my community.
It is in that dark time that I was invited to join sociotherapy. It was my first time to sit and talk with a group of people. Initially it was not easy for me to share my experiences, but I felt released when I eventually did. In addition, I had always thought that I was the only person who had experienced bad things, but through sociotherapy, I noticed that I was not the only one to suffer. I regained a sense of life as I realized there were still kind people who listened to me, valorized me, and respected me. Sociotherapy made me change my mindset. I became self-confident and I regained my trust in life and in the future. I understood that I was not crazy, but powerful and strong. I started to take care of my children and myself. I now have a good relationship with my neighbors. Still, my own children do not respect me, but I can at least understand and tolerate it. I know that change is a process and that one day my situation will be fine.
In addition, my life improved economically. I learned how to cultivate fruits; I supply many people in Kigali. I know how to save money for the future, and how to feed my children and motivate them to go to school. I do not feel isolated within the community anymore because I have very close, trustworthy friends that can advise me whenever I am in trouble.