September 30, 2007
More Goodbyes, the Gacaca, and Personal Stories Shared
After saying heartfelt goodbyes to Ugo and Uduma who were returning to Nigeria, Fidele drove James, Adin and me to witness a Gacaca, the community court held once a week in every district throughout Rwanda to hear and try cases related to the genocide.
With one of the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre members serving as our translator we joined hundreds of Rwandans packed on hard benches and crowded around the perimeters of an open air meeting space (with a roof to protect us from the sun). Sitting together were eight men dressed in pink outfits, the prisoners charged with crimes. The five judges (one woman) called them up singly or in groups to defend themselves, and to cross examine them. People from the community came forward to give their testimonies, as accusers, and witness and to provide other information relevant to the case. The process was slow and deliberate, carefully designed to provide time for everyone to have their say. The cases involved murder, looting and intimidation. When we left after six hours of sitting without a break no judgments had yet been made and half of the cases remained to be heard. Witnessing the intense focus and patience of this community for the entire time, and understanding that this process has been replicated throughout the country for the past several years, we understood in a new way the significance of this truth and reconciliation process.
After returning to the hotel we were met by two training participants who shared with us their personal stories. The woman was orphaned when she was sixteen, and become responsible for caring for her three sisters. A family friend helped her with schools fees to complete secondary school. She was then able to get a job with a coffee cooperative in a rural area. Determined to make a better life for herself, she entered university, commuting into Kigali for a few days each week. She dreams of getting a house for her sisters, becoming a manager at the coffee cooperative, helping to improve the lives of the farmers. She was able to attend the training because of the support from Dean's Bean's Organic Coffee.
The man is one of 18 children from a family that still lives mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His family has no money, but through his powerful commitment to his own education, he is now in his last year at university. He explained that he walks everywhere and goes some days without eating in order to have money for his studies. His final paper will be on the impact of punishments in Gacaca. He has been a dedicated volunteer for the Rwanda Men's Resource Centre and assisted with much of the on-site logistics of the training.
James and I were impressed with the courage of these two people, and went to bed knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of others throughout Rwanda with stories just like them.
Posted by Jorge at September 30, 2007 11:56 AM