*This brief reflection is a small glimpse into the 8 day field study course I engaged in this past January with the CONTACT (Conflict Transformation Across Cultures) program and SIT Graduate Institute in Rwanda. The purpose of the course was to study a society rebuilding itself post-conflict. Rwanda taught me so much…and left me more confused than ever. This post is for those of you asking to hear about my experience. Some of this may not make sense so please ask questions and I will try to answer them. Also, I’d love a phone call or face to face conversation about it all. Also, it goes without saying that I am NOT an expert on peacebuilding or Rwanda by any means; these are simply my initial thoughts and reactions. Thank you, friends. -Megan*

When I reflect on my time in Rwanda, I find myself breaking the my learnings into two categories: the work of the people and the work of the government. On one hand, I see incredible individuals and organizations working on reconciliation, peace education, eradicating gender based violence, telling stories of forgiveness, and so on and it gives me so much hope for this country and its people. But then I hear about the government’s lack of tolerance toward opposition, whether it’s an opposing political party or a critique of the government’s narrative of the genocide, and its restrictions on society, organizations, and individuals and I wonder if it’s all a façade. It feels like the peace that exists is so fragile, just dangling in the balance. I see truth in the words of Pastor Antoine, who leads a multi-ethnic congregation: “We have succeeded in creating peaceful cohabitation but we are still in the process of creating lasting reconciliation.”

Peacebuilding is a complex, active process that involves commitment and input from people at all levels of society. In a country like Rwanda, where there are so many restrictions enforced by the government, peacebuilding can lose its robustness and sincerity when mandated by the government; particularly when those mandates include pardons for confession of crime. At the same time, while communities are engaging actively in peacebuilding, reconciliation, and forgiveness, the government’s lack of support and/or the government’s mandated confessions can impede the effectiveness of these community programs. As someone who intends to focus my peacebuilding work at the community level, this trip has caused me to consider, yet again, how robust community programs can be without the support of the government. I certainly believe these programs can, should, and do exist whether the government supports them or not but is their effectiveness impeded by the government?

I am currently in the process of trying to hold multiple truths at once. When I find myself wrestling with binary conclusions, for example is Kagame good or bad?, I take a step back and remind myself that he has done good things and bad things and many things in between. I also remind myself that my beliefs and values come from my Western, White, American upbringing and, while I know that I do not fully understand the Rwandan culture and context, I recognize that my innate values and biases still creep into my thoughts.

As Honorable John of Parliament strongly reminded us: “Whatever you [study], make sure you put it in the cultural context of where you are studying,” On the field study, I kept asking myself, Do I truly believe that Rwandans know what is best for Rwandans or am I engaging with this process in a way that assumes Rwandans are not capable of deciding for themselves due to their history? Am I asking questions as a critically thinking student or out of a lack of trust in the storyteller and their capacities? In essence, are my actions living up to what I say I value? I’m still asking these questions.

Finally, I reflect on the wounds that are still healing in Rwanda. As a Parliamentarian lamented, “Rwandans are wounded people. We are not yet free of the wounds.” And Pastor Antoine reminded us that, “Repetitive wounding makes it hard to forgive and forget.” All Rwandans were affected by the genocide which means everyone carries some kind of trauma. How do you heal a traumatized nation, especially when the wound is still so fresh? Individual acts of apology and forgiveness are a start but is everyone capable of this? As we asked in our group discussions, does forgiving atrocities of this magnitude require divine intervention and does it require an apology from the perpetrator? The old man whose house I ate lunch at in Save implored, “How can I forgive unless the perpetrator asks me to forgive them?” My immediate thought was, Why do you need to be asked to forgive? And then I come back to this: many truths can exist at once. For this man, this is one of his truths at this time in his life. For me, I am still discovering what I believe to be my truths. Murakose cyane, Rwanda. Thank you very much, Rwanda, for the chance to learn a bit more of your truths.

Osman Benk Sankoh 4

Photo credit: Osman Benk Sankoh; Photo of our group of students hearing genocide stories of healing and reconciliation from a community in southern Rwanda