Connect to share and comment

Rwanda's genocide — 15 years later

Part 2: One community works for forgiveness.

Clothes of murdered Rwandan genocide victims surround three coffins in Nyamata Catholic Church, which is now a memorial to the genocide that started in April, 1994 and lasted 100 days. (Jina Moore/GlobalPost)

This the second part of a three-part series. See "Part 1: Survivors start to confront trauma." See Part 3, the slide show "Remembering in silence" that is in this story.

NYAMATA, Rwanda — Beathe Mukangarambe didn’t think she’d ever speak to a Hutu again.

It was a Hutu, after all, who’d killed her family. Fueled by alcohol, armed with machetes, and spurred on by an ethnic hatred decades in the making, in 1994 one ethnic group in Rwanda turned on the other.

One by one, for 100 days, neighbor killed neighbor, and stranger killed stranger. By the time the genocide ended, more than 800,000 minority Tutsi and some politically moderate Hutu had been slaughtered.

Among them were Mukangarambe’s five children.

“Whenever I see someone sending their kids to the market, I feel sad and jealous,” she says. “I swore I would not be friends with any Hutu, because now it is as if I never had any kids.” As she tells about the deaths of her children, who were killed in Rwanda's genocide 15 years ago, the man sitting next to her looks away. He is Emmanuel Bamporiki, and he is the one who murdered her children.

“I went looking for her family,” he says. “I was not supposed to help her because there was a directive to kill all the Tutsi. She didn’t survive because I let her, she survived because of God’s mercy. It wasn’t in my control. I was doing what I was told.”

Today, the two are friendly, linked as members of a grassroots cooperative of 700 people called Ukuri Kuganza, or “Let out the truth.” Its members dot the dusty hillsides surrounding Nyamata, a town about 40 minutes from the capital city of Kigali. In a country where most social action is taken at the highest levels, Ukuri stands out as a group started by and for Rwandans nervous about how perpetrators of genocide, who had traded confessions for freedom, could live again with the people whose families they killed.

“Before this association, it was hard for Hutus to sit and talk with Tutsi,” says Samuel Nyibizi. “When others see members of the association talking freely, they approach and ask, ‘How did you get to that point?’ Hutu would ask [each other], ‘How can you talk to them?’ Even Tutsi were asked by other Tutsi.”

Nyibizi and other members of Ukuri say the association opened the space for dialogue that victims and perpetrators needed, especially after a 2003 amnesty let those who pled guilty to genocide charges return to their homes. The news of their freedom left survivors like Mukangarambe uneasy.

“I didn’t want to live with any Hutu,” she says. “But they tell us that those who died, died. They can’t be brought back. Those who remain should find a way to live in harmony.”

She admits, though, that’s not why she joined. Ukuri is more than a dialogue group; members build homes for other members, receive counseling as they need it and share their stories of forgiveness with other villages to promote reconciliation. It uses some of its financing — it’s now backed by World Vision, an international Christian organization — to buy goats for its members, who give kids to other members.