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HROC Participant Testimonies

Burundi Tutsi Participant:
HROC was an incredible force for me. At first, I thought I was just a bother to people and I just wanted to stay at home all the time. I never thought people would listen to what I had to say. I lived here but I didn't have friends, even in the camp [of internally-displaced Tutsi]. It was during the HROC workshops that I first saw people really could listen to what I had to say. Even more surprising was when everyone in the workshop cried with me when I shared all the bad things that happened. After that, they became my friends and I visit them often. We created a friendship and it makes me happy to be recognized by my group. I feel like a new person, very useful to my family and to the community. I thank very warmly the people responsible for HROC who thought of coming here and inviting me. It is an immense blessing that I have received.

Rwandan Tutsi survivor:
Before we [survivors and released prisoners] could not even talk to each other or sit next to each other, but after the workshop we could talk. The one who killed my family asked for forgiveness, explained what he did and accepted it. It was not easy for me to forgive him, but I did and little by little he became close to me. And then, the killers told us where the bodies of our lost family members were, and then we could go find the remains and bury them properly. After HROC I found out where my sisters were and buried them, and many others were found.

Burundian Tutsi participant:
During the crisis, Hutus took me from home and brought me down here to hang me on that big tree you are seeing outside. I thank so much those Hutus for when we got here, they told me to run away. And then they started to shout loudly as if I am shouting for being killed. They told their friends that they killed me already and that the screaming they heard was from me. I am thankful to them so much. They saved my life. One of them is here. (They hugged each other.)

Rwandan Tutsi survivor:
Before the workshop I didn’t think I could ever forgive the killers. But when one of the released prisoners told the whole truth in the workshop I was able to forgive and gained many things. The killers asked for forgiveness, they got down on their knees and asked God, the government, and the survivors for forgiveness Many of my friends in the workshop forgave the killers. My anger has diminished. When I have drinks, I share them with the killers…I remember the trust walk when the person who killed my family was my partner. [During the genocide, she witnessed this man kill her two brothers with a machete and her younger sister with a spear.] I was shaking before because my partner was a known killer and very strong. I thought he might throw me down, but he also had fear and he took me gently, kindly. I asked him ‘Will you lead me in peace?’ After the trust walk with him, I felt it was not good to stay in my grief and had no fear against him.

Rwandan Hutu released prisoner:
Prison, it was bad, beyond understanding. You could not sleep lying down, there was only room to sit; many died from disease. Even sometimes there was no water, and once I went four days without food…I realized I had many symptoms along with the others who had been in prison. When I remembered sleeping among the dead in prison, it made me want to be alone and not speak. Even though I was released, I still felt imprisoned and didn’t trust others…I was only doing my thing, I could not talk to people about my problems. I thought I could only live with prisoners. But after the workshop I felt free in my heart, it let me release my fears and helped me to form relationships with survivors… even if I have a conflict with someone, it no longer destroys the relationship

Rwandan Hutu released prisoner:
We were led in wonderful discussions where we learned about things that wounded us, shared our burdens, and so on. I discovered that it is when you sit with someone and share with him that you understand that the person is not garbage. Once you have stored sweet words in your heart, they stick there and they help you to eliminate the bitterness. It is amazing to see how people in the community started trusting me. They often come to me asking for advice in the conflicts they may have because they are, for sure, witnesses of the goodness that is within me. I want to keep being the model in my neighborhood. I committed myself in assisting those in conflicts for I know what prison is like and I would never wish that anyone else would live what I lived there. It is woeful!!!

Burundian Hutu villager:
Before the workshop, I liked to be alone most of time. My heart was exhausted from carrying all the bad stuff I had. After the workshop, I remember that is when I slept more deeply than any other single night since 1993. The group sharing revealed to me that I am not the only one. On this earth, if you do not join others in groups, you would assume that you are the only one in sorrow. Never have I had time to laugh while in a group until I participated in the HROC workshop. In that workshop I renewed my relationships with Tutsi and now I feel like nothing would prevent me from spending a night in their homes in case I would be in such need. I am a Hutu and I believe that a Tutsi is not a monster. The proof is that there are Hutu who got married to Tutsi and vice versa. The problem is that people have been overwhelmed by the atrocities done and got broken in their hearts. Still, there is hope that things will change. I am now able to work for a Tutsi and get nice pay. I recall one day that it had rained too much and it was impossible for school children to cross the stream. I helped all of them, Tutsi and Hutu, without distinction. It is very exciting to hear from my children that they are friends of my Tutsi neighbors’ children. Another day, on my way to the fields, I reconciled two boys who were going to beat each other. I am sure, if this had happened before I attended the workshop, I would not have paid attention to it. Nowadays, I find myself interested by community life.

Burundian Tutsi woman married to a Hutu man:
I am deeply thankful to the person who started these workshops. Things were going from bad to worse if it were not for the HROC workshop I attended. I had begun to see images and hear voices like what I lived through during the war. It was like a movie! Then I even started to consider my husband as an animal. It was hard for me to live with him. HROC gave me a relief! It was hard for my husband to believe it. He is now convinced that it is real.

When the war took place, I was pregnant. One month later, I went to hospital for delivery but my child died just after birth. There was no need for me to stay in the hospital for nobody from home could come and visit me. I chose to return home though I had not started feeling well. When Hutu began lynching Tutsi in our community all my in-laws left me and some of them would have been happy seeing me dead. We were in very difficult relationship, my husband and me. He gave himself pleasure to beat me so often. My children and one of my brothers-in-law were the only ones who understood my sorrows and comforted me...Listen, I remained alone in my community as a Tutsi; all the others were killed! Being able to share with those I met in HROC workshop tremendously helped me. I have been able to let it go. I have no more flashbacks; neither nightmares. Helped by my children, we worked on issues with my in-laws. My mother-in-law is now my mum. We got reconciled.

Burundian Tutsi survivor:
Before I attended the HROC workshop, I considered life like a burden: worthless. I was every time thinking how I could revenge the killing of my husband and relatives. During the war, the Hutu killers came and selected all males in my in-law family. Afterwards they came asking for money and used the threat of rape. We then moved to the IDP camp with our children. Life is not easy here. Well, I do not know how I got invited to a HROC workshop. Surprisingly, I met some of my former neighbors there. It was not that easy after roughly ten years of separation. I was too suspicious. The openness and compassion I saw in everyone in the workshop touched me. I then slowly began to accept that Hutu did suffer also during those days! I have decided to join a traditional dancing group; something which is unbelievable for Tutsi here in the IDP because there are Hutu in the group. Those women and girls have greatly helped me to bind my wounds. I feel different now. I am very proud of it. It is so sweet to hear folks saying that my face has changed from looking foggy to joyful. It is like I am a symbol of change! The cohabitation with Hutu in the community has improved as well. They now watch over my crops so that nobody will destroy them. I am sure that I would return as soon as I am able to have my house built. I am confident that life in the community is possible.

Husband of Rwandan Tutsi participant:
It was not like this before. Now I have a loving wife. The killers come and visit her, and she talks to them and doesn’t flee. She does not have so many flashbacks and can sleep better. Before she was easily angered and we fought, but since the workshop it has diminished…My wife told me the workshops were good and diminish trauma. I feel changes in my soul, because I had bad ideas and I learned from my wife what they really were.

Male workshop participant:
I would have been the big loser if death had taken me away before having attended this HROC workshop. I had seen how happy are those who came from these workshops you are organizing and I wondered what they were given. I was overloaded with my bad feelings and this workshop has been an opportunity for me to put down some of them. More, I had been quarreling with my wife and many times I used violence over her. Thank God that I have learned how I can manage my anger. I am ready to change and bring peace in my family.

Female workshop participant:
After the workshop that I attended, I wished that my husband would get this extraordinary chance too. Fortunately, God answered my prayers! He participated in the last one you conducted. My home has become a paradise! Before we attended these workshops my husband was always furious. He was treating us as slaves. My home was a hell. Since he had participated in the HROC workshop, he has now time for the children and me. When he comes from work, he greets us, tells us how things have been for him and asks us how we have been doing too (what he never did before). Now he consults me before making any decision. You understand that there is a reason for me to be this joyful woman.

Workshop participant:
The skills that I got in the workshop that I attended have enabled me to be compassionate in helping others. A few days ago, on the queue at the hospital waiting for our turn, I saw a woman sitting under a banana tree, crying and saying things like a crazy person. I immediately went to her, sat beside and holding her in my arms. She kept on crying! After a while, she stopped crying and looked at me very surprised. I told her that I felt pity to see her alone. I asked her what happened and she revealed to me that her child had passed away. I listened to her and we finally sent somebody to go and call her husband. This was a great experience for me. I could not accept that I would have been empowered to that level.

Burundian traditional judge:
I am a “wise man” who helps adjudicate local cases. I used to ask for bribe to one of the two parties in conflict so that I may give him or her favor. Just after the last day of the workshop I attended, one woman came to me with money in hands. Trying to hand it to me, she said that she wants me to help her to win the case opposing her neighbors. I listened to her and when she was done, I quietly told her that I could not touch her money. Instead, I suggested that she could go and meet the one with whom she in conflict and try to talk about the issue. Two days later, she came back happy for they were able to resolve the issue by themselves. Another man came with the same intention but still I refused the bribe. I told him that I am no longer the same person they used to see. HROC has changed me! I am happy that people in my community know that I have abandoned that worthless habit and that they can unify by themselves. Thanks for the HROC workshop because I have got light and courage. I have become conscious that bribe is one of the roots of mistrust tree. And I have up-rooted it!

Young Burundian Tutsi Participant:
I am a Tutsi living in the IDP camp. I was around ten when the war reached our area. I remember that day when Hutu beat my young brother to death. My mum asked our Hutu neighbor to escort her so that she could take my brother to the hospital. Pitilessly, he told her “Don't you know where you have buried your husband? Take him there too!” Hopelessly, my mum and I went to the hospital but my brother died in mum's arms before we could reach the hospital. We turned back and took the trail to the cemetery. Only two of us, two females, buried my brother. This would never have happened before the war. After we were done, we went home crying.

Since that time, I considered the Hutu man as a monster as well as his wife and children as we say in Kirundi “the mouse's baby is victim of his mum's hate.” After the HROC workshop I attended, I used to sit and meditate. One day, I decided to rebuild the destroyed relationship with that family. Unfortunately, the man had died. Still, I went to his daughter, who is almost my age, and told her my sad story. I openly told her that this was the only reason that I hated them. She was very sorry to hear what her father did to us. In tears, she humbly asked if I would be eager to forgive her father, though he had died, her family and her too! I responded to her that that was my aim for coming and talking to her. We are now friends, real friends. I have forgiven! Without HROC workshop skills, especially the tree of trust, I am not sure if I would have come to that decision.

Burundian Hutu woman married to a Tutsi:
[According to the custom in the region, the child takes the ethnicity of the father so her children are considered Tutsi even though she is a Hutu.] When the war was hot and we were fleeing in the bushes, a Hutu woman told me: “Why are you still tying that evil child on your back, meaning that the child whose father is a Tutsi is an evil. Take him down and throw him away!” Did she forget that he was my child? Did she mean that my loving husband was an evil? Since that time, I decided not to be with that woman and have been holding such hate, anger against her. But, this workshop taught me how to let it go. I want to meet with the woman and tell her how what she said wounded me and that I have been able to forgive”.

North Kivu participant:
Forgiveness was not in my vocabulary. If you offend me, I will keep it and sometimes I used to write it in a certain book for reference. I never thought of others when I do offend them. When we did the mistrust tree, I realized how I am filled with hatred, anger and pride. I realized what kind of fruits I am producing especially in my family. There are people who offended me when I was not yet married.

Now I have three children and I keep on talking about it. Maybe my children have heard me talk evil about those people and they will also hate them because of me. My first step is to burn the record book. If someone offends me, it’s better to talk to the person. And she may, in her turn after realizing her fault, ask for forgiveness. Even if she doesn’t ask for forgiveness, it’s ok because I will have done my part.

Burundian Hutu participant who fled to Tanzania:
When I was a refugee, I came to believe that Tutsi are the enemy; and I thought this for three years. When I came back to Burundi, I still thought of Tutsi as the enemy, as those who were the cause of my suffering. Through HROC I was put directly in touch with those who had traumatized me. It was very difficult the first and second days. When I listened to people talking I focused on thinking about their ethnicity. But as we began to speak about our feelings, and I heard, for example, a Tutsi who had lost someone close to them speak positively about Hutu, I began to be opened up. The trust walk was moving – I was the one blindfolded and led by a Tutsi woman, and I was sure she would lead me into a patch of thorns or something, but instead she was quite caring. Through this, I came to see the image of myself in Tutsi, and now am close friends with many Tutsi.

Burundi youth participant:
I used to be a thief. I would break down neighbor’s doors and steal all their possessions without pity. I do not know how I was invited by the HROC person to attend a HROC workshop in my community. But truly, since the end of the second day, a very deep change happened in me. It was then that I came to realize that I had been making my neighbors' lives miserable and tough. I had been traumatizing them so terribly. I decided, then and there, to stop breaking into peoples' homes. For the moment, not many people believe that I have become this truly new person, except my old friends. But I am committed to showing them my new face. With time, they will trust me. I have started warning my community any time I hear that my old friends were planning some robberies. I want to be a tree of trust. I feel free and joyful.

Burundi Tutsi participant:
I am originally from Ngozi province. I had a house there that I didn't have much need for after I moved [to the Ruhororo internally-displaced persons camp for Tutsi]. I knew a Hutu was in need of a house, but of course I wasn't ready to just give it away. But later I began to think about the teachings of HROC and I decided to give him my house in Ngozi. Now we are like family and, occasionally when I come to visit in Ngozi, I stay with him at my old house.