As an orphan and survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, 31-year-old Honorine Uwababyeyi chose to use her psychology degree to help traumatised victims of the Genocide through counselling and advocating for peace and reconciliation through her organisation ‘Hope and Peace Foundation’.
She talked to Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her journey and passion for reconciliation.
How did you come up with the idea of ‘Peace and Hope Foundation’?
As a result of the 1994 Genocide, many survivors were orphaned and they lost love and care because they didn’t have families, others had their parents jailed for participating in the Genocide, while others were young ones born as a result of rape during the Genocide and thus did not know their fathers. After analysing all this, and with my background in psychology, I thought of what I can do to help the victims and contribute to society. I founded the organisation in December 2003. I first dealt with the youth by encouraging them to publically share their stories as one of the coping mechanisms.
What exactly does your organisation do?
Our members comprise of the orphans owing to the genocide, victims of rape and widows. They meet and through group interactions, conflicts are solved amongst victims and their perpetrators. Mothers also resolve issues with their children who often blame them for their suffering. This organisation was meant to change the mindset of these people so that that can be freed from victimization and to promote reconciliation by sharing ideas with the victims and perpetrators. We also do individual counselling for the extremely traumatised and also social therapy for all members to participate in social activities like Umuganda to bring them together. Through ‘Nyumva Nkumve’ slogan, youth survivors of the genocide, meet and discuss their issues, share ideas, and come up with concrete decisions.
How many members are you dealing with to-date?
We have 418 members nationwide but we are now operating in Kigali, Kamonyi, Gicumbi and Bugesera.
How has the organisation changed you?
The organisation has transformed me. Every time I would see the children of my parents’ killers, I would be quick to judge them and often referred to them as ‘Interahamwe’. On the other hand, they were unhappy because in reality, they weren’t responsible for their parents’ actions. Although we didn’t physically fight, our hearts were never at peace. The youth who were also born as a result of rape face similar issues of stigma because their maternal relatives often refer to them as ‘sons of the Interahamwe’ and due to poverty, children who do go to school find it hard to interact with other children which slows their recovery process. However, this organisation has helped provide a platform where they can meet and resolve issues thus changing their mindset.
How do you fund your programmes?
We don’t have donors yet. We do our work voluntarily but we have well wishers who support us and some organisations such as the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission who give us recommendations. In December 2014 the same commission funded the ‘Tur’umwe’ training programme for our members.
What activities do you undertake during the commemoration week?
Our main focus is dealing with trauma and every year, we hold events where we specifically honour women and the girl child especially victims of rape. We celebrate them because of the big role they have played in bringing about peace and also show them love and hope for the future. We have hosted this event twice and we plan to do it again at the end of May this year. Last year, we held a social event at the memorial site of Kamunyi where survivors gave testimonies to bring about reconciliation.
What has been your biggest challenge?
When I started this organisation most people were not sure of how I would bring about reconciliation. Reconciling survivors and their perpetrators was also difficult as some of the victims were never sincere. They pretended to forgive yet they were still hateful and angry. Other beneficiaries of our programmes also thought that I had answers to all their questions while others thought I would solve all their problems like tuition fees for their children, which wasn’t the case.
As an organisation, what is the way forward?
We do have a comprehensive long term plan; I train coordinators and equip them with counselling skills to help members who have trauma issues. However, all we can afford to do is communal work because we do not have enough funds to conduct trainings and other activities that require money. Our goal is to be able to reach out to all the provinces of Rwanda.
What commemoration message do you have for the readers?
What happened during the genocide should not stop us from building our nation; in fact, we should use it as a stepping stone to build a firmer nation that is more focused on long term development. Remembering the Genocide against Tutsi should not be a weapon against us but for us.