THEIR STORY is unique because what they did seemed impossible in the eyes of many observers.
Moments after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, not many had imagined seeing survivors join hands with perpetrators or the latter’s next of kin to rebuild the country.
But that is what members of Ubutwari bwo Kubaho association did, against all odds. And, today, their efforts in promoting reconciliation have won the association accolades and awards.
It all started in 1995 when about 370 Genocide widows in the rural Karama sector, Huye district, decided to come together to try and seek ways of coping with the aftermath of the Genocide.
Indeed, they were in the same situation: they had lost their families during the Genocide, their properties had been destroyed and thought joining hands would help them heal.
But later, they realised that something was missing for their dreams of starting a new life to materialise. They then sought to bring in women whose husbands were imprisoned for their role in the Genocide. With time, Genocide convicts who had completed their sentences also joined.
That it how Ubutwari bwo Kubaho, or the ‘Courage of survival”, was born.
The association now has more than 1,900 members who work together to heal from the wounds of the Genocide while improving their socio-economic status.
After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Mukabarenzi Therese, 63, was left with many questions over her future, not because any of her relatives or friends had been killed but only because she wondered how she would live with those whose relatives were killed by her husband.
Mukabarenzi, whose husband was convicted of Genocide crimes, says she was haunted by his actions.
“I feared encountering them,” she says, referring to Genocide survivors.
But a new door opened when she was asked to join Ubutwari bwo Kubaho association. At first, she says, she could not figure out how she would join hands with Genocide widows whom she had even feared meeting before.
“What happened was very horrible and regrettable. I always felt I was guilty over what our relatives did [during the Genocide],” she says.
But as calls kept coming urging her to join the group, she decided to try.
“We sought forgiveness on behalf of our spouses. And when Gacaca courts started, we talked to our husbands and encouraged them to ask for forgiveness for their inhumane actions,” Mukabarenzi says.
Income generating activities
It is Friday, around noon, the members of the association meet to discuss the affairs and achievements of their group. As the meeting picks up, four of them accept to talk to this paper. They sit in a semi-circle in a room near the meeting scene and, together, we are discussing the progress in their reconciliation efforts.
As the discussion starts, something is noticeable: members of Ubutwari bwo Kubaho prefer to discuss their story in groups, perhaps to show their unity or to gather some courage of sorts.
Asked what they have gained since the association started, the women’s answer is unanimous: healing and love.
“Before I joined this association, I had resorted to seclusion and isolation. I had lost the meaning and actual sense of life,” Theodosie Mukarutabana, a 51-year-old Genocide survivor, narrates.
“But when I joined hands with others, my life changed. I came to hear stories similar to mine, heard about what others went through during the Genocide, shared my experience and got information on the whereabouts of remains of my relatives killed during the Genocide. This helped me in the healing process,” she says.
“Today, I am a changed woman. I have rediscovered the sense of life and love for humanity has reignited inside me.”
As reconciliation and unity took its course, members of the association embarked on income-generating activities.
“Forgiveness opened the door to reconciliation and development,” Mukarutabana says.
Today, the women practice agriculture, especially livestock farming, but others are also involved in small retail businesses.
“We do everything as one group,” Marie Mukamusoni, 54, a survivor, says. “We share every success and help each other whenever some of us need support.”
To further cement their ties, they started a programme to distribute livestock among them.
“We started with the most vulnerable within our group and whenever the animal delivers, the offspring goes to the next beneficiary,” Mukamusoni says.
So far, hundreds of livestock, including cows, rabbits and goats, have been distributed among members.
An internal informal money lending scheme was also initiated to support their daily activities while at the same time encouraging members to acquire loans through banks and other financial institutions to further invest in their ‘businesses’.
“Being part of this group has restored my confidence that I can work and champion for a better future despite my difficult past. I have found peace in my heart, which allowed me to concentrate on building my life,” Mukarutabana says.
For Mukamusoni, a widow survivor, Ubutwari bwo Kubaho was the driving force behind every single step she made after the Genocide.
“It gave me the courage and inspiration to work after I had totally lost hope. I am now a determined woman, who works to improve my livelihood and that of my neighbours,” Mukamusoni says.
For the members of the Ubutwari bwo Kubaho association, the future reserves the best things, thanks to their unity.
“The step we accomplished when we came together always drives our actions and raises our hope for a bright future,” Mukamusoni says.
“We are now living as one family. There is no longer Genocide widows or wives whose husbands are in prison [for their role in the Genocide]; there is no more selfishness, seclusion and isolation. Together, we stand as one and we always support each other as we aspire for improved living conditions,” Mukamana adds, with emphasis.
“The bad leadership had driven our country to total darkness. But today we are building a new society. United, we have won over what could have divided us to enlighten our lives and reignite the ray of hope for a better future. Mutual love and hard work is all that drives our action”, Mukabarenzi notes, as the discussion draws to an end.
“We shall never allow the bad to raise its ugly face again,” she vows.