Together, Rwandan

Whatley Ozer
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Rwanda, Together [00:00:28] I am Christophe Mbonyingabo. I am from Rwanda and I'm the director of CARSA. [00:00:54] Describing Rwanda during the genocide, it's really very hard because what happened. It's undescribable. [00:01:09] A million people were killed and at this time were killed by their neighbors with a very traditional weapons, not guns, or being shot. [00:01:23] Neighbors were supposed to protect their neighbors, family members were supposed to protect their family members. They're the ones who were killing them. [00:01:31] It was dark because this Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa were not and are not ethnic groups. [00:01:36] They're just social classes. So you imagine now people speaking the same language, the same culture, live the same neighborhood, they have intermarriage. Now they're killing each other for no clear reason just because of the genocide propaganda, the political propaganda. So that's why it was really hard. [00:02:05] You know, a genocide cannot happen, a genocide cannot take place, a genocide cannot be called genocide if there isn’t government involvement. So currently with the policy of the new government for reconciliation and unity that’s the hope, there is a political will towards unity and reconciliation. Which is very important. But secondly, it’s dedication to the young people. [00:02:36] And creating space where young people grow up in a different environment, where there's no divisive laws, where there's no discrimination. Where there’s not having these rhetorics and speeches from the politicians, which are, you know, pushing them towards it. But currently, every speech is more towards unity and forgiveness and reconciliation. So with those structures, political structures, but also secondly, community structures, such as CARSA- the organization I work with, where these young people see widow who have lost their family members left by herself and now she is able to not only forgive the perpetrator, to not only forgive the very same person, who have murdered her entire family, but welcoming the person into her house, feed him -that's a clear sign for the young people. That forgiveness, reconciliation is possible. And that's the way. That's the direction. [00:04:18] CARSA has been working with the young people, especially kids who were born after the genocide. And these kids are obviously coming from these two sides- survivors and perpetrators, and who don't know much of the narratives. You know, they were they did not witness. [00:05:02] So when I see them coming together, playing together and all the initiatives that are undergoing and these students, you know, being the same schools and going together, I think my hope is for them to grow in a different context, different environment. [00:05:47] Genocide. Violence, brutality. It's not Rwandan issue, it's not African issue, it's human issue. Why? Because with all the propaganda, political propaganda, that people, simple civilians, were exposed to. They were educated about division, hatred, and dehumanization, the media portraying Tutsi being evil, being snakes and all that. That's put so many people to get involved in the genocide. [00:06:20] If any society is being exposed to a hatred speech, divisive speeches and all these kinds of discriminatory rhetorics, people kind of get easily to that other end, that other end where they kill one another. But secondly what they can learn it's like this other side. It's the side of hope. The side of, we cannot wait until we get to the dark. [00:06:50] There's clear sign, when groups of people they start dividing themselves from can be racial issues, can be ethnic issues, religious issues. When one group is considering the other as less human, as the evil, as the source of everything, then it's a clear sign. It's the click. Is the red light telling stop. Stop, don't get to the other end. So it's time to start saying, let's deal with that, let's sit together as a society and start dealing with our problem before we get to the violence. But even when we get to the violence, the violence is not the end. Out after the violence, people can choose again to restore their broken relationships. [00:07:36] I believe those are key lessons the rest of the world could learn from Rwanda. [00:07:43] And educating young people, especially so that they grow, understanding that we cannot make it alone despite of our differences. But when you find yourself in the same community, the same nation, there's no stability, there’s no prosperity if, without unity, it’s impossible.

Truly encapsulating Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 is impossible. During the 100 days of the genocide, nearly one million Rwandans were killed. It was, as CARSA founder Christophe Mbonyingabo describes it, “a genocide of proximity.” Many victims were killed not by strangers, but people they knew intimately: by their neighbors, friends, and sometimes even family members.

The genocide can be difficult for outsiders to understand. A country that largely shared a common language and culture had become increasingly divided by a colonial emphasis on class and ethnicity. Even now, after spending time in Rwanda and producing a documentary about efforts to recover from the genocide, the experiences that I heard and the stories of the brutality so many people endured still feel surreal to me.

But the atrocities of the genocide is not where the Rwandan story ends. I produced this documentary to demonstrate how Rwandans are actively shaping their future. CARSA, or Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Action, is one Rwandan organization working to heal the wounds of the past for a brighter future. They hold workshops and programs, many shown in the documentary, which attempt to reconcile survivors and perpetrators of genocide, and to make sure that new generations of  Rwandans are free of lingering hatred or resentment.

In CARSA’s Empower workshops, survivors and their perpetrators meet together for a week and take part in three-hour sermons in the morning and two hours of group and partner activities that aim to release “happy chemicals.” These activities teach skills like destressing techniques, and how to clear your mind to easily fall asleep.

This picture was taken in Kamonyi, Rwanda, a district close to the capital of Kigali. The women pictured are members of a Cell Group—survivors and perpetrators of the genocide who have gone through CARSA’s Empower workshop to find peace and begin the road to inner healing.


After completing the weeklong Empower workshops, the participants select a survivor and perpetrator pair to participate in the Cow for Peace program, where the survivor is given a cow and, with the help of the perpetrator, cares for the cow until it has a calf of its own. Then, the survivor is given the choice to gift the calf to their partner, the person who had harmed them and may have killed their family members. Through Cows for Peace, the survivor and perpetrator can cultivate a relationship based upon partnership and caretaking.

During my visit, I saw a Cow for Peace pair on a visit to a Cell Group – a group of survivors and perpetrators who went through the Empower workshop and continue to meet after to discuss their lives and hardships. CARSA’s programs aim to establish a lasting, positive bond between the perpetrator and survivor. Rebuilding these relationships can also motivate others in the group to continue working towards group acceptance and forgiveness.

Another key theme is CARSA’s initiatives with Rwandan children. CARSA’s Peace Clubs meet after school and teach important lessons about the history of the genocide, as well as leadership skills, dialogue and communication, and conflict resolution. Another program is Football for Peace, essentially a soccer league for children in various districts around Kigali. The caveat is that in the matches, there are no referees; rather, the children must stop the game if they see a foul and use conflict resolution skills to resolve the problem. CARSA produces workshops with children in an attempt to create a new generation of Rwandans that have the skills and ability to prevent another genocide from occurring in Rwanda.

Only time will tell if these programs will bear fruit. CARSA’s founders also hope that these techniques can have a life beyond Rwanda, in other countries that have faced civil war, genocide, or other forms of mass violence. Rwandans have lived through an experience that is horrifying, but very human. Understanding not only what lead to the genocide, but also how a country can rebuild post-genocide, are valuable lessons for the U.S. and nations around the world.

Additional Reading

Hatzfeld, Jean, and Linda Coverdale. Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak: a Report. New York: Picador, 2006.

Longman, Timothy. Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

“Rwanda Genocide: 100 Days of Slaughter.” BBC News. BBC, April 4, 2019.


Project Contributors

Whatley Ozer

Whatley Ozer

BA Candidate, Foreign Affairs

From the mountain town of Galax, Virginia, Whatley Ozer will be graduating from the University of Virginia in May of 2020 with a B.A. in Foreign Affairs and a minor in Dance. She has spent much of her time at UVA abroad—be it in Italy, the UK, or Rwanda. Whatley is interested in discovering cross-cultural similarities and differences, and how recognizing these elements can be used to rid the world of stereotypes and prejudices.


Larycia Hawkins

Larycia Hawkins

Assistant Professor, Politics and Religious Studies

Larycia Hawkins, PhD., is a scholar, a political science professor, and an activist. Professor Hawkins teaches and researches at the University of Virginia, where she is jointly appointed in the departments of Politics and Religious Studies. She also serves as a Faculty Fellow at the University's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, is a contributor to the Project on Lived Theology; and co-convenes the Henry Luce Foundation project, Religion and Its Publics. In a December 10, 2015, Facebook post, Hawkins declared her intent to don a hijab in embodied solidarity with Muslim sisters throughout the Christian season of Advent. The post ignited an international firestorm that initiated conversations about the nature of God and the possibilities for multi-faith solidarity at a time when Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and hate crimes motivated by religious differences were, and continue to be, more prolific than at any time in recent history. At the time of her activism, Hawkins was an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College (IL), a Christian university founded in 1860 by abolitionists. Hawkins was the first black woman to be granted tenure in the history of the university. Within five days of her Facebook post, and after repeatedly affirming her commitment to the college’s Statement of Faith, Hawkins was placed on administrative leave. On February 6, 2016, almost two months following her act of embodied solidarity with Muslim women, she and Wheaton College agreed to part ways. Her story is documented in A New York Times Magazine feature, “The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity—Then Lost Her Job”, and in a recent Washington Post article, Hawkins was recognized as “one of 12 major religious newsmakers — and stories — from the past decade who stood out, in part or in full, because of their beliefs or religious traditions.” Dr. Hawkins is the subject of a film, Same God by Midgett Productions. The documentary premiered at the LA Film Festival, won the Best Documentary Award at the Bentonville Film Festival, was a finalist for a jury award at the Cork Film Festival in Ireland, and aired nationally on local PBS World affiliates in December. In a review published in Rolling Stone, Alex Morris wrote, “Same God exposes the hypocrisy of the church and the power of faith. Backed up by interviews with biblical scholars from none other than Wheaton itself, Same God pointedly reveals the flaws in dogmatic Christianity, the cost of speaking truth to power, and the amazing strength of a woman standing by her convictions. It’s a tale of David and Goliath, a testament to the power of faith.”

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