Encounters with conflict and peace

The aid worker: John Steward

"I came to Rwanda with my wife in 1997 to manage the reconciliation and peace building program for World Vision.

I saw a country moving at half pace. People full of fear, struggling to get food - frantic to get jobs, dislocated and separated from their communities. I quickly realised that the government was proclaiming the need for justice and the church was preaching forgiveness, but people were hurt inside. Those messages of justice and forgiveness were just creating barriers in people who were incredibly traumatised.
MUSIC CREDITS: 'Don't Know What To Say' by Levi McGrath, Mark Tulk & Niki Tulk.
Performed by Levi McGrath. Used with permission. (c) Small House Records, 2010.
John Steward Rwanda 1996
So many people were afraid that I, as a reconciliation worker, was going to ask them to forgive other people. On most days, two or three people would come to my little office in Kigali and, between the tears, would tell me their stories. This happened on such a regular basis that I'd ask them, "Why are you coming to tell me this?"

Invariably the answer would be, "We don't trust anybody with a black face. You're a mzungu - you're a foreigner. We need to tell our story to someone."
Related pages
Survivor questions
John on Rwanda after the genocide. “They were tough days. You had this cauldron of a million people who’d lived in exile for up to forty years and two million recent refugees, all coming back to mix with the survivors and with perpetrators who hadn’t yet been identified....
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The importance of justice
When you take away the justice system - the police, the lawyers, the courts and the jails - and it’s just two groups facing each other with some terrible event coming between them, how do you do justice? John Steward talks about the dilemma...
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