The 23rd of May in Muhanga, children, men, women, CSOs representatives and local authorities joined Abagore b’Ibyiringiro, an association of genocide widows to remember women and children whose lives were taken brutally by those who were supposed to protect them. Research by the Government of Rwanda published in 2005 has revealed that 53, 8% of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi victims were under 25 years old, while 43, 3% were female. It will always be hard to understand that a society willingly and consciously decided to exterminate its members.Early morning Community Based Sociotherapy (CBS) team led by Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje, the chair of CBS board of directors, laid flowers as a sign of honoring and remembering the bodies of those who are resting eternally in Kabgayi Memorial site. Afterwards, they joined other Civil Society Organizations and the people of Muhanga present at the event in a walk to remember which ended at Groupe scolaire Munyinya in Shyogwe sector.
CBS staff laying flowers on the last resting place of more than 10,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi
Welcomed by the president of Abagore b’ikizere, His Grace Onesphore Rwaje reminded the audience that when God Created man, two things stood out. First, man was created in his image and, second, man was given the authority over other creations. His first obligation was to protect these other creations. However, he killed and turned his back to those who were suffering.
“Therefore our mandate on this Earth is to behave well and to do good things. Those who killed their neighbors deviated from the mission of God. They did wrong and they have to apologize not only to the entire society of Rwanda but also to God”, said the Chair of CBS.
A strong message was given by Mrs. Yvonne Mutakwasuku, the former mayor of Muhanga District and a commissioner in CNLG, emphasizing the role played by women in the preparation and execution of the Genocide. She gave many examples of women in high positions in society, who could have used political power to help other women, but instead chose to turn their back to mothers like them, sometimes going as far as prompting men to kill and humiliate other women. These women included Nyiramasuhuko Paulina who was the minister in charge gender or Bemeriki Valerie a presenter on RTLM( Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines).
The message given by each of the speakers had prepared the audience for the testimony that was subsequently given by a female survivor. She first spoke about her childhood, being tormented by her peers who referred to her as cya gitutsi (the (it) tutsi) and bullied by her teacher who instead of protecting her become her main tormentor. As a small and innocent child she turned to her father for consolation and for an explanation of what being a Tutsi meant. Her father responded that a Tutsi is a person like any other. It was only when she grew up and experienced the negative effects of being a Tutsi that she started to really understand what a Tutsi was. When the genocide broke out the woman had to flee her home with next to nothing taking with her. She and her family didn’t reach far. Together with other Tutsi they were brought to the then sector office, where they were separated into groups. “I will never forget what one of the Interahamwe told us, namely that we Tutsis didn’t belong in Rwanda, that we came from Abyssinia. When we asked him how we could go back, he told us that the only way to do so would be through being killed by a machete and then sent back via the Nyabarongo and Nile River.” So it seemed that he reproduced what had been said by Léon Mugesera, a Rwandan university professor and a political person, who had successfully incited the Hutu to send the Tutsi “back to Ethiopia” through the river Nyabarongo. Her suffering didn’t end there, because in the following weeks she was raped countless times to the point of seeking death herself. “I remember that when I was coming back from Kabgayi, I went to search for a soldier called Shitani (the devil) because he had a gun and I wanted him to finish me off. Unfortunately I didn’t find him.”
The testimony of the lady generated a lot of emotions, particularly anguish which will forever remain in the hearts of Rwandans. Especially of those who went through similar atrocities and their descendants.
Sociotherapy as a program has seen many of the surviving women who joined the program. While their bodies might have been healed, their mental wounds made it very difficult for them to be fully functioning members of their communities. The healing journey of sociotherapy participants had gone through had been a first step into bringing them back to life. During this commemoration event, CBS together with other organizations provided some first necessities during the ceremony of Kuremera(the process where family and friends donate to those in need to get them started to become independent) that followed. This ceremony is one of the home grown solutions, which makes Rwanda a country to be proud of despite what happened.We are living in a present where women have a voice and have value.
Community Based Sociotherapy will continue to facilitate sustaining those achievements by ensuring the healing and mental wellbeing of women who are the heart of their family and by extension the healing and wellbeing of the humanity.