Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reconciliation? I don't know that reconciliation would have occurred to me.

Thanks to World 
Vision's peacebuilding efforts, many youth in Rwanda have transitioned 
from traumatic childhoods to hopeful futures, like Sharon, Josiane, and 
Albert (left to right).Thanks to World Vision's peace-building efforts, many youth in Rwanda have transitioned from traumatic childhoods to hopeful futures, like Sharon, Josiane, and Albert (left to right).
©2009 Albert Yu/World Vision

Reconciliation?  I don't know that reconciliation would have occurred to me.  Brutality and wickedness wound so deeply, my gut response is that somebody just should kill the bad guys.  The problem, of course, is that justice alone doesn't heal.

World Vision: Bringing healing and reconciliation 

It's been more than 15 years since the Rwandan genocide.  It's not over, but there are some good things happening there.  Some assistance efforts are changing their world. 
We're so fortunate to have folks who are willing to pour out their own lives to help others.  

World Vision began working in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, integrating healing, peacebuilding, and reconciliation into all its development programs. Believing that reconciliation is a prerequisite to the development process, World Vision supports community initiatives that help the emotional health of people affected by war and genocide and promote community harmony. Staff members in Rwanda bring people together and encourage them to be proactive about their own reconciliation processes. During reconciliation workshops, genocide survivors, students, teachers, released prisoners, opinion leaders, children, and adolescents are all given forums to share their stories, learn about the power of forgiveness, and dream about the future within a safe environment.

Some things are too painful to look at directly.  You almost feel you have to skirt the edges of it for awhile until you screw up the courage to face it head on. This is difficult stuff; you might not want to read the rest of this unless you've got a moment to deal with it.

Marilyn and I heard about the bloodshed in Rwanda in the early 90's when missionaries we knew started showing up from there, arriving stateside where we lived in Illinois.  They were told to leave the Rwanda by the state department and others as things got worse.  They told us stories about the violence, but it was a long way away, and our lives were already full enough of our own difficulties.  

Later as things got worse, we heard more, almost too horrible to consider.  We felt like we were being bludgeoned by the news.  Finally, " 1994, extremist Hutu militia known as the interahamwe, along with other soldiers (government sanctioned), slaughtered approximately 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, using machetes, hoes, and nail-studded clubs. During the course of the 100-day genocide, the world did nothing as those caught up in the frenzy killed their neighbors and even members of their own families." (NYT report)

Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned.  Hundreds of thousands of women and girls were systematically raped, often after they had been forced to witness the murder of their families, "so that you will die of sadness," they were told. 

"During the genocide, rape was also used as a deliberate tool of “ethnic cleansing.” The total number of women affected remains unclear, but an approximation based on the number of resulting pregnancies suggests a number ranging from 250,000 to 500,000 rapes." (WV report)

Rape victims are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized from the community.  It's not over when the criminal leaves; the devastation persists.

War, bloodshed, horror.  More than 2 million refugees fled to neighboring countries (mainly Tanzania and the DRC) in fear of retaliation. Nearly all public systems and health services in the country collapsed.

The genocide left thousands of households with no adult.  The abode of children, they spend their energies taking care of each other and watching each other die.  Their parent's generation was massacred.  Diseases and especially HIV have made the aftermath even more difficult. 

The 1994 genocide dismantled the emotional stability of the country, instilled fear and mistrust among community members, and led to a sudden breakdown in the traditional social organization of the people, exposing many widows and orphans to neglect and isolation.

Compared to the lasting attention given to the crisis in Kosovo by Western governments and media, there was a conspicuous foreign disengagement from the genocide in Rwanda. Four months before the massacres began, the commander of the United Nations mission in Rwanda warned U.N. leaders of the threat posed by Hutu extremists. That warning was rejected by the U.N. 

For three months, the interhamwe militias massacred entire villages of Tutsi and moderate Hutu - on average 5000 people every day. By mid-July, almost one tenth of the people in the small but densely-populated nation had been slain.   (Estimates of the total lives taken range from 500,000 initially to 800,000, then to about 1,000,000 including the reprisal massacres.)

Even after the killing began, many western governments sought to downplay the scope of the bloodshed. Despite the mounting evidence of ethnic warfare, the Clinton Administration went so far as to direct its spokesmen to avoid describing the massacres as genocide. 

In the wake of the killings, over two million had been forced to flee. Rwandan jails are now packed with 125,000 prisoners, almost all of them ethnic Hutu, charged with murder, rape and other crimes arising from the militia's actions. 

The Rwandan government, hailed for ending the genocide in '94, is now unveiled in a UN report as the instigator and executor of mass murders of Hutu refugees in the neighboring DRC.

There are hundreds of photos available of the bodies strewn in the villages, blood-soaked clothes, and more that I can't describe.  I thought about adding them to this article, but I can barely stand to look at them and consider the lives of the folks who died so senselessly. 

The violence that children were exposed to or engaged in is a unique and traumatic problem for Rwanda. A recent Unicef study found that 96% of children interviewed in Rwanda had witnessed the massacres and 80% of the children had lost at least one family member. 

After '94, the government set up Camp Gitagata as a confinement/reeducation center for children of their holocaust.  One child, "Kubusimana was a Gitagata detainee for several years, imprisoned on of killing of a 10-year-old boy during the massacres, when Kubusimana was only 6 or 7. Interhamwe militia members reportedly brought the 10-year-old boy to Kubusimana's house, telling him to kill the older boy."  (NYT report)

"The level of trauma among children is unprecedented," Chauvin said.
But the numbers fail to convey how the children are - on a daily basis -- coping with the violence of the genocide, largely without any external support. 

"They had some assistance in some areas and certainly the government gave them assistance, but it's never enough given the number of children and what the government was dealing with post genocide," McBride said. "The problems from the genocide do not end with the aid and the assistance that comes in the immediate aftermath in one or two years."
It's not over.  Today, the same sort of violence persists and has spread into neighboring Congo communities. 

The following organizations are providing assistance
to the children of Rwanda.

Thank you Father for those who've given their lives to serve in such a difficult place.