Kigali, Rwanda -- (SBWIRE) -- 07/22/2014 -- In a small village in Huye district in Southern Rwanda, tensions between genocide widows and wives of genocide perpetrators had long riled the local community.
Every time the wives of genocide perpetrators visited their husbands in prison, genocide widows stopped them on the way, threw stones at them, and harassed them verbally.
The wives of the perpetrators would also turn around and ridicule the genocide widows. They told them how they wished they had been killed too. Neighbors watched the battles unfold in disbelief.
The women would meet at church every Sunday. Every one of them looked humble, and pretended to be friendly and loving. Later, after the church service, they would spit on ground in utter disgust as they hurl insults at each other.
A nun, who had witnessed the tension between the women, approached them and invited them for conversation. They agreed.
Weeks later, the women formed an association and named it Ubutwari Bwokubaho, loosely translated as ‘Heroic Will to Live”. Years down the road, the women have become an inspirational story of reconciliation in Rwanda. Today, the association has close to 2000 members.
More associations across the country have since emerged. The women members do businesses together and support each other when faced with social problems.
Pelagei Umurerwa is a member of a similar association in a suburb of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital with more than 500 members. “At first, it was not easy to work with wives of those who killed my husband and relatives,” she says. . “But we are not killers, and these fellow women [wives of the perpetrators] are not killers either.” “There is nothing we can do but to work with them,” Umurerwa adds.
MatrideI libagiza is also a memberof such an association. In 2011, after acquiring skills in tailoring, she earned Rwf150, 000 (about 250USD). She added her savings and invested in a small poultry farm with 10 chicks.
In less than 12 months, she has begun making a living from selling eggs and chicken. She now earns more than Rwf100, 000 (150USD) every month. “Life is promising,” she says. “I am now able to pay school fees for my two sons.”
The association receives support from NGOs and government programs that support such or similar reconciliationinitiatives. Members then apply for loans from the funds the association receives.
The Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), Dr. Jean Baptiste Habyarimana says their work has been extra ordinary. “We actually follow their example to educate the community about reconciliation,” he said.
For Umurerwa, the woman in Kigali city who had to forgive despite the pain she endured: “The Genocide destroyed everything… But we have to pick up pieces and move forward,” she sums up.
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