Kate Kelly, 25, an American, came to Rwanda six months ago to understand the meaning of forgiveness as a solution to her personal life.
She was faced with persistent anger for an abusive father who instead of opting for reconciliatory ways to keep the family together, had decided through divorce to alienate himself from a 24 year old marriage.
It was in 2007 when he parted, leaving behind six daughters.
“When he moved out, my sisters informed me of terrible things that he had done to our family. I was devastated. The man they described was not the father I had known,”Kate says sadly avoiding the specifics of the abuses.
She says that through hard work, her father who lived in Massachusetts had moved from an impoverished status to an upper middle class. Kelly had looked up to him as a role model.
“He used to take me for basketball games, coached me, and was my main support system in every facet of my life. He worked so hard. I loved him.”
But with the separation from his family and the damning revelations of abuse, that love was replaced with only sadness and anger.
For two years since the revelation of the abuse, a disappointed Kelly buried herself under long hours of work to ease her anger.
It was after two years of unsuccessfully nursing her disappointment, that she came into contact with a lady she called Rica who gave her background on Rwanda.
And it is then that Kelly was convinced to come to Rwanda on a healing visit.
She wanted to draw lessons from the progressive recovery Rwandans are experiencing from the ghastly 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Drawing from some of the lessons she has had “there is a difference between forgiveness and repentence. And forgiveness is something between you and God”, says Kelly.
On arrival into Rwanda, Kelly who is passionate about basketball started coaching street children of Kigali, many who are orphans, children of incarcerated parents, genocide survivors or those who live in single parent households.
“The future of Rwanda depends on these children for a better Rwanda. Here I believe the emotions are just building and they don’t have the opportunity to let it out, to discuss their pain,” she adds.
Previously, she had met Andrea McDaniel, coordinator of As We Forgive, a local NGO, who granted her the opportunity to be part of their programmes.
She was later granted access to a basketball court and balls by Kicukiro College of Techonolgy and FERWABA (Federation Rwandaise de basketball).
The trainings took place every Saturday.
The trainings that have gone on for weeks have been transformational for both Kelly and the children.
Watching the games, I saw Kelly challenged by children smoking marijuana in the bushes sorrounding the court during breaks. Others were unruly during practice and it took time to get them into organised formations.
“They have greatly improved. Each week was better than the next. Although we did face some adversity, it was expected. Over time, the older kids started lining up the others, and started really helping the coaches. For those who would become distracted and leave the court, we had our older staff talk to them about their behavior and we had to threaten them not to return unless they behaved and they did. I loved watching the kids grow over such a short time period,” she said giving an overall account of the numerous weeks she had encounters with the children.
Other activities involved workshops for training on forgiveness conducted by As We Forgive and group discussions from which Kelly was able to listen to testimonies from survivors of the genocide.
“Things people have experienced here are unimaginable. It is different with me because I still have sisters and a mum but here families were taken away. I think the level of hurt is very different, you can not compare,” she says.
“I have gotten so much from those street children more than they have got from me,” she says.
And that is why Kelly has chosen to forgive the father despite his refusal to take the blame for his past faults.
“But I believe forgiveness is divine, what Rwandans are doing is not human, sincere forgiveness and reconciliation is miraculous. The people here are so strong and the world can learn from their experiences and their strength,” she says.
Kelly also took part in organising committee of Walk to Remember that was coordinated by As We Forgive and Peace and Love Proclaimers (PLP) in the East African countries. It aimed at getting the youth to renounce genocide tendencies by demonstrating through walks.
President Paul Kagame participated in the walk that took place in Kigali.
PLP was started by secondary students in 2007 to stamp out genocide ideologies from schools.
With the six months experience in Rwanda, Kelly is ready to return home a changed person though still faced with an ongoing court case between her father and the family.