Today, the 7th of April 2014, marks the start of the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. “Twenty years is short or long depending on where you stand,” are the words spoken by President Paul Kagame during the Commemoration Event at the Amahoro stadium today. We have witnessed in the Community Based Sociotherapy Program that twenty years is a short, as people still live with the effects of the genocide every day.
In a period of 100 days, Rwanda lost its humanity, which led to the death of around one million people. One million in terms of numbers unfortunately does not say anything, as it goes beyond the imaginable. However, behind this number there are one million stories of human beings like each one of us. Next to these one million stories of people who died, stories that can never completely be told anymore, there are stories of ‘the living’, stories of regaining human dignity through all its complexity. For this process social elements like safety, trust, care and respect, have to be rebuild in the Rwandan society and in addition to that, the stories of Rwandans have to be listened to and acknowledged in all their pain and sorrow.
In the Community Based Sociotherapy Program, an environment for Rwandans was created to share their stories and to reconstruct the social features that were destroyed. Many people who shared their stories felt ‘unburdened’ and step by step they started to feel dignified, acknowledged and respected. A specific case were the women of Nyamata who were able to talk about what happened to them within a sociotherapy group. Prof. Annemiek Richters and Grace Kagoyire, both pioneers in the field of sociotherapy and currently working in the Community Based Sociotherapy Program, decided that the stories of these women had to be written down. Among those women there were those who had been victims of sexual violence. Most had never told their story before, and now these women want to be heard at a much larger scale. For us, to never forget what happened to them.
The ‘International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ (IRCT) published 10 of the 19 stories of these women in a special issue of the ‘Torture Journal’ titled: “Of death and rebirth: Life histories of Rwandan female genocide survivors.” In these stories the voices of women who are in the process of overcoming the destructing effects of rape, due to sharing their story with others, are highlighted. Nonetheless, also for them, commemorating the genocide remains an ongoing internal fight, with many psychosocial implications, but the most important thing is that they are starting to feel human again.
Their stories can also be found on the website of IRCT. Every ten days a story will be published during this commemoration period, which will altogether last one hundred days.