Encounters with conflict and peace

No longer interested in life

“My wife is dead, I have lost my family, except for two children. I used to have six cows, ten goats, thirty hens. Now my pen is empty.

Of the nine teachers at the school, six were killed, two are in prison... I am remarried with one of my wife's little sisters; but I lead a life of no interest to me anymore.

At night, I go through a life all too peopled with the many dead of my family, who as killed folk talk amongst themselves, and who ignore me and do not even look at me anymore. During the day, the pain of solitude is of another kind.” (Jean-Baptiste Munyankore, school teacher)

Rwandan women at gacaca
People recover best when they’re among friends and Olivier, a young Rwandan, understands his country well. “The most important thing to Rwandans is relationships, and relationships were really damaged by the genocide.”

Social networks were broken, closeness and trust were replaced with isolation and suspicion. So for many Rwandans, rebuilding family connections and friendships with neighbours has been a high priority, and is helping to ease the pain of all the things they have lost.

But the genocide affected everyone differently, and the best efforts at helping people recover are sensitive to that. They involve listening, learning and understanding individual needs.
A man with gentle eyes
For Angelique, the genocide showed that men could be unreliable and dangerous friends. “I could not confide in a Hutu man anymore… I have forgotten the fantasy of love. I am simply waiting for an everyday man with gentle eyes that alight upon me for what I am.

I hear candidates knocking on the door and introducing themselves wearing brushed shoes, but I see no one who could provide me with tenderness.”

Finding a reason to live

For some, the first hurdle is just finding a reason to live. “You feel like you are not OK - you want to die. But then you think, ‘I have to do something to be OK,’ and you start seeing reasons why you have to live,” said Josephine. “You start thinking of your children, for example, and say, ‘ah, despite everything, I have to live for my children.”

Finding a reason to live doesn’t take away the hurt or solve all your problems, but in terms of healing the mind damage, it’s a significant step forward.

The children

Child headed households, Rwanda

Most of the children alive during the genocide witnessed extreme violence and were severely traumatised. UNICEF estimates that around 300,000 children were killed and that about 95,000 became orphans.
Rwandan children in the genocide
Many of these have been grouped together in child-headed households. Young children are being raised by older brothers and sisters. Some have the security and advice of adult mentors. They are given a cow or a goat, provided with seeds for crops and taught about agriculture and business. They make friends and learn about reconciliation through sports events, drama, music and radio shows.

Annet, who worked with the children for several years, said, “they taught me innocence. They’re able to forgive each other - to embrace each other. In their play and songs and dancing they always show how the adults were a barrier to them building good friendships - and I believe that was true.”
Related pages
The children
The BBC journalist Fergal Keane visited an orphanage in the mountains of northern Rwanda during the last days of the genocide. "We are trying to teach them to trust the world again, but it is very, very difficult."

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