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Rwanda's genocide — 15 years later

Part 2: One community works for forgiveness.


Mukangarambe joined because her house was crumbling and she needed help. She didn’t think she was interested in all this talk of forgiveness, until Bamporiki approached her. He confessed to her that he was the man who had killed her children, and he asked her to forgive him. She accepted.

“I realized that if I hate them all,” she says of the Hutu, “it won’t help.”

Bamporiki joined the association specifically to meet her and confess. He didn’t feel comfortable knowing she was alive and didn’t know who was responsible for her pain, but he didn’t want to tell her until they’d built a relationship.

“The association helps you first to live with her before you tell. I got used to her. With time I got the courage to tell her,” he says. “Standing up and saying what I did and asking for forgiveness is hard — almost heroic. But I did not want to live with someone I hurt when I knew and she didn’t.”

The two recount their story surrounded by 15 other Ukuri members, seated along the edges of a gazebo topped with an old tarp from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. They’ve gathered to meet an international delegation, and some, like Mukangarambe, are dressed in formal African garb for the occasion. Others wear the brightly colored plastic sandals that signify extreme poverty. They understand how incredible these stories of forgiveness sound, but they insist what happens here is sincere. They enumerate the benefits of the association — seven have new homes that the group has built together, and five are raising goats — but they speak most fervently about the less tangible benefits of reconciliation.

“Forgiveness takes away the fear and shame. If you meet a person you hurt along the road, you have nothing to be worried about,” says Epimaque Nzigiye.

Mediatrice Mukamurego, who lost family in the genocide, agrees. “Before you forgive, you have a burden in your heart. Hating all the Hutus is very hard on you. If you forgive one, you find that it’s easier to forgive the rest. Your heart is lighter because you have no problems with others.”

Bamporiki calls asking for forgiveness “overwhelming.” It’s the same word Mukangarambe uses when she describes listening to Bamporiki talk about killing her children. If they are divided by history, they share the pain of learning to live with its legacy. It is, they insist, working.

“Today, you might think he’s my son. If he sees me walking, he stops to give me a ride on his bicycle,” she says of Bamporiki, smiling. “And I got a house. So now I can live in peace.”

See Part 1 of this series: Survivors start to confront trauma.

More GlobalPost dispatches on Rwanda:

Rwanda not troubled by rumblings in Congo

Congo and Rwanda join forces to attack Hutu militia

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