Tales of women about their journey to Unity and Reconciliation under SEVOTA
She had just been raped before her husband and children, and her family killed. The only one hope she relied on was the baby on her back as she ran away from the killers, but the dark hour was yet to strike — the baby had been injured during the time when she was raped and the child died two days ago. She did not know that she was carrying a dead baby.
Marie-Rose from Kamonyi district faced challenges and went heads on with death and survived. But her story is a testimony of resilience, unity, peace and reconciliation. At the beginning of 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, genocide perpetrators attacked their home; they raped her in front of her husband and children and later killed them leaving her helpless.
For Claudette Uwimpuhwe from Ngororero district, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis left her an orphan after witnessing her pregnant mother being raped and her womb ripped open and the fetus was removed and killed, while her sister died with pain after the killers inserted a bamboo stick in her genitals. The same men that raped her mother then raped her.
Mukamudenge was raped and impregnated by the same Genocide Perpetrator who killed her parents and whose brother cut her leg, “being young, I got traumatized,” she says, “ but luckily SEVOTA came to help me. My child was the talk of the village as they would refer him as the outcast, I got traumatized by the fact that I had lost both parents in the hands of my rapist.”
A couple of years later, they returned to their villages to be told they were the lucky ones. But many said they would have preferred to die than face a future haunted by what they experienced.
Such memories were hard to be forgotten and indeed it made these women and girls lived a traumatized life, rejected and abandoned, but the ray of hope was still glimmering, and the encouraging words whispered into their ears — the words of forgiveness, unity and reconciliation spread by SEVOTA.
SEVOTA, founded in 1994 brought these women together, it gave them hope, peace and a sense of belongingness, the trauma was healed, and most came to understand why their lives were spared during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.
SEVOTA also supported women who had been forced into marriages during the genocide including some orphans who had been married, some had been sold, others married forcefully to Genocide perpetrators to be abandoned when they freed into exile and others imprisoned.
The organization has the overall objective of promoting activities relating to peace, reconciliation, and the promotion of human rights — specifically women’s rights and the rights of vulnerable children, through the creation of spaces for dialogue and capacity-building.
Despite all these, the victims of Genocide could still not wipe out memories of the tragedy, even some would meet the perpetrators who killed their families or raped them and something had to be done — to help the victims live a peaceful life. This is when SEVOTA in line with government’s program of unity reconciliation started helping the women and girls through their groups to learn how to forgive and reconcile with those that caused their pains and sufferings.
“Unity and reconciliation has been our goal. We have worked with groups of women of genocide survivors and also have their husbands got involved. We provided counseling on how to support their partners in overcoming trauma or sadness and live peacefully,” said Godelieve Mukasarasi, founder of SEVOTA.
Christine Mukayigire said, “To have survived is not something to be happy about. We don’t hear among the survivors saying it was good to survive. To me. suicide was my only good option until SEVOTA came to rescue me.”
The government did come up with the system of community-based courts that sought to try genocide criminals while promoting forgiveness by victims, ownership of guilt by criminals, and reconciliation in communities as a way to move forward.
“We owe our existence to the liberation, the RPA forces are heroes who endured much to liberate Rwandans. They could have chosen not to interfere but they fought to liberate the people,” said Mukasarasi
Gacaca melded justice with a form of truth and reconciliation that required the guilty to admit and apologize for their crimes, this later became the cornerstone to all national efforts and basis for combating all forms of discrimination and exclusion, because the fabric that once held the society apart was reconstructed, reconciled with its divisive past and the natives being able to reconcile with each other in a way that brings about unity.
Under the umbrella of different organizations like SEVOTA, survivors expressed their happiness in that their lives have been restored that were once destroyed during the genocide. They have been able to organize themselves to analyze their problems and find solutions by valuing human dignity.
The Rwandan government listened to survivors and perpetrators. Their fears, trauma, hopes, expectations, prosperity and family rebuilding were taken into consideration with the Unity of Government under President Paul Kagame. Through the Ndimunyarwanda ( I am Rwandan) program which SEVOTA also embraces as a partner for the government, Rwandans were reconciled and unified despite the past differences.
BENEFICIARIES SPEAK OUT
ALVERA UWIFASHIJE MUREHE CELL, RUKOMA SECTOR, KAMONYI DISTRICT
Genocide affected me. At the beginning of Genocide, my father met the perpetrators and told him to look on the other hill, he saw a burning house and they told him- you are next. News started coming that many Tutsis are being killed. He then gave me money to give to my Godfather who was a Hutu, but when I reached they refused me.
All my four brothers and father were killed, but what haunted me was how they killed my grandfather while I was watching
CHRISTINE MUKAKABERA KARAMA SECTOR, KAMONYI DISTRICT
I was raped and forced into marriage. During the Genocide, I was 20 years old from a family of six children. My siblings were killed. I was hiding at my relative’s place with two other people. A young man came and wanted to make me his wife. I refused but he gave money to the genocide perpetrators came and took me by force to his home and he sexually abused me.
CHRISTINE MUKAYIGIRE GACURABWENGE SECTOR, KAMONYI DISTRICT
I was raped during Genocide in front of my husband and children. My husband was later killed. A genocide perpetrator took me as his wife, but he never gave me food or water, he only used me. After the Genocide, I was picked by SEVOTA and gave me another life. I underwent therapy and was educated about unity and reconciliation. I thank the Unity government for helping us to have a renewed life.
I was able to reconcile with the person who killed my family. Currently, he comes to ask me for casual job for digging.
VESTINE MUKASEKURU, RUKOMA SECTOR, KAMONYI DISTRICT
Genocide happened when I was still young, I was from a well off family, but they killed my mother. I was able to save my sister. I was later raped by the man who killed my parents and he impregnated me. His brother cut my leg. What hurt me most was that I have not had a good relationship with my sister because she cannot accept the child I produced as a result of rape. , I also never loved my child. But SEVOTA helped me to reconcile with those that killed my parents and helped me accept my child. SEVOTA taught me how to forgive and live a peaceful and happy life.
FRANCINE MUGANGA, GATUMBA SECTOR, NGORORERO DISTRICT
I lost my parents at age 11 during genocide. I found myself sleeping with dead bodies. To survive I covered myself in blood and also drink it. After genocide I lived a difficult life, I was a destitute and did not have anywhere to go. The people I called my family continued to oppress me, they sent people to rape me and I got pregnant. I had no option but to get married. I also faced more problems because the man I married also had so much problems. Both families hated me. My trauma was too much to bear. But SEVOTA gave me hope and taught me how to forgive, reconcile and reunite with those that caused me pains and sufferings. I am now happy and at peace with my family and my husband’s family.
ESTERI MUKESHIMANA, NGORORERO DISTRICT
I was born in an extended family and they killed all of them. The perpetrators raped my mother. She was pregnant and they cut her womb and removed the fetus. I was also raped and my sister died after the perpetrators inserted a stick in her genitals. They later cut my leg, in the head and back. The Perpetrators then threw me in Nyabarongo River but I was saved. I survived as an orphan with no family. When I joined SEVOTA I was taught how to live a positive life and forgive those that caused my pains and sufferings. The Unity and Reconciliation Commission took us to the prison to forgive those that killed our family.
CLAUDINE MUNDANA, BUGESERA DISTRICT
I was young during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis and witnessed the crimes of the perpetrators. It caused so much trauma in my life. I saw young girls and women being raped and I was also raped and got pregnant. When SEVOTA came, it gave me hope and I was linked with other women who have the same problems I have. We started learning how we can fight trauma and help each other. SEVOTA through this Unity Government taught us how to forgive and reconcile with those that killed our family. We are now living with peace and harmony.
Photo By Eric Nzabirinda, Light Magazine