Fate brought together a group of women, in the Eastern province, Nyamata district. These women, whose lives have forever been tainted by the 1994 Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi’s, help each other through socio-therapy.
Their suffering can only be described as horrific.
The women were encouraged to come together to talk, listen and teach each other how to live positively with their past. Socio-therapy is the tool that has helped them open up.
Now they are able to work together towards building a better future for themselves and their children.
The women have a lot in common and can relate to one another without feeling embarrassed. “They are like a family now,” says the group’s facilitator, Justine Mukarukaka. “We started on the 22 February this year but the socio-therapy in this area began by in 2008.”
The women didn’t know each other before they met in the group. But it quickly became clear that they were more than willing to come together and express their despair.
They meet under a tree in front of a small church in Nyamata and formed the fourth socio-therapy group since 2008 in the area. Each group is made up of about 12 people and meets for 15 weeks.
This particular group has been gathering for seven weeks. “We get together in this town but come from different parts of the district.
We share what happened to us and in doing so, we grow closer to each other,” explains Christine, one of the members of the group.
Another woman, Immaculate, remarks that even though they are still learning, change can be noticed. “I was alone with no one to talk to.
In this group we share similar experiences and help each other through the common problems we face. I realize now that I did not suffer this abuse alone during the genocide.
There are other women from whom I can learn how to move on with my life. After speaking out, I felt relieved. The lessons learnt here, can be passed on to other family members especially the children.”
Most of the women hadn’t had a goodnight’s sleep in ages. Whether it was out of fear or just the history that traumatized them to their very souls, getting sleep was always hard.
But after talking and opening up to each other, they felt like a burden had literally been taken off them.
Two women, Chantal and Justine, are married but the rest are widows.
Most of them lost their husbands during the Genocide and now stay with nephews and nieces. Others live alone.
The composition of the socio-therapy groups is different. Some groups consist of women and men, some of victims and perpetrators and others of just women. Like this particular one.
Immaculate recalls that the man who killed her family came to her house and apologized. “I forgave him. There is nothing much we can do about it.”
She adds: “The men who raped us though, do not have the courage to come and apologize. They also live in fear. They exist more or the same like us.
Before Gacaca, we could not imagine meeting face-to-face with someone who hurt us so horribly. But through Gacaca, we faced our abusers and this helped reduce the tension.”
Socio-therapy is somewhat a continuation of Gacaca. It helps people to come to terms with their situation and speak out about what they went through.
“People who took part in the genocide live in fear. This includes even those who confessed and returned to their families. They feel that the survivors want to revenge, which is not true at all, “says Immaculate.
There is an example of a man from a socio-therapy group who, before joining the programme, lived in constant fear.
‘He never wished to come into contact with survivors and felt as though he had to live in hiding for the rest of his life.
But after 15 weeks of going through a socio- therapy programme that brought together survivors and perpetrators alike, he changed for the better and was interacting with everyone.
He regained his confidence and is now participating actively in the community,” states Immaculate.
The women group in Nyamata believes firmly that socio- therapy should be encouraged in the whole country because of its benefits.
Facilitator Mukarukaka feels that the story of the atrocities, committed against them, should be told and discussed among people.
“Genocide was well thought-out by Hutus in an attempt to terminate the Tutsi. The genocidal regime was helped by foreign countries which in fact continue to harbor some of the suspects.
There are those who were let off the hook by courts like the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and got asylum.
Many of them stubbornly do not accept that there was genocide in this country despite all that happened. Our parents were killed in broad day light; they did not die of natural causes.
It is painful to hear today that those who stopped the genocide are the same ones being accused of it,’ says Mukarukaka.
She is convinced that socio-therapy can help the cause of justice. ‘When one has a chance to join a group, one is helped to speak the truth through the different phases of socio- therapy like security, respect, care and emotions.
It may not be achieved a hundred per cent, but it helps.
“The women of the socio-therapy group in Nyamata not only carry the pain of the past but also deal with the problems of the present.
Surviving is the only word that can be used to describe their lifestyle. “Begging is not encouraged in our culture,” says Mukarukaka.
“Some of them sustained injuries which make it difficult to fend for themselves.
The Government built houses for vulnerable survivors but not everyone got one. There are those who have children who cannot go to school.”
With only the sale of fruits and vegetables to help them get by, it comes as no shock that these women have to walk a tiring 2 hours to the town center just to attend the socio- therapy sessions.
It turns out that these gatherings are a great motivation for them. A long walk does not prevent them from attending because they feel their mental state is improving.
To top it all, there is no financial help from Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) for these women; not even a donation for the bus fare once a week to attend the meetings.
Vivienne, one of the group members, remarks that she is not interested in NGO’s as she never expected to survive. “I had a family of 12 but only 2 survived.
We were betrayed by our fellow countrymen, our own flesh and blood and were wounded not only in body but in soul too. We never thought we would live but I guess it’s the children that make you realize there is hope for the future.”
Had it not been for the socio-therapy groups, most of these women would be hiding in the corners of their homes, afraid of anything and anyone and wallowing in their sorrow alone.
And even though they are not financially stable, one can only be inspired by their motivation and good nature.
However difficult the past was, they are more than willing to turn a new leaf and forgive those who seek forgiveness in order to move on as best in life as they can.