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Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities – Rwanda
Theoneste Bizimana, Coordinator, HROC-Rwanda

The Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) program started in 2003, some years after the war and genocide of 1994. Though there was security in the country, people were still suffering from the consequences of war and genocide including psychological trauma, loneliness, and helplessness. Many people still feared each other. There was no trust in the community, especially between the Tutsi and the Hutu. Trauma among the Tutsi, the survivors of genocide, was characterized by much anger, depression, hopelessness, and mistrust. One the other side, the Hutu were afraid, shameful, angry, guilty, anxious, and suspicious.

The situation became worse when the government started releasing people who were accused of participating in the killings of their brothers and sisters. More than a hundred thousand, mostly men, were imprisoned accused of participating in the 1994 genocide. The reports said that with the normal justice, the trials of these cases would have taken more than two hundred years. As a response to this huge challenge that the government was facing, traditional justice, called gacaca, was adopted. Gacaca means “grass” where community wise men use traditional ways to resolve conflicts. People in conflict are brought together in a community meeting. All people sit on the grass under trees. AGLI supported Alternative to Violence Project (AVP-Rwanda) as it conducted more than one hundred three-day AVP workshops with the gacaca judges.

When the prisoners started coming back to the community to be tried at the gacaca courts, most of them were afraid of their neighbors. Great hatred and much trauma existed in both survivors and released prisoners. To have a sustainable peace in Rwanda at that time, deeper healing of psychological trauma and community rebuilding were needed.

In partnership with the Quaker church of Rwanda, the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams created the Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) program. Healing trauma and rebuilding trust were the main objectives for starting HROC. Since then, the program has evolved and this is what has been achieved:

  • More than two hundred three-day HROC workshops were held in different corners of the country
  • Five community support groups or associations of survivors and released prisoners were created
  • The program has helped initiate HROC in North Kivu in the Congo and Kenya
  • Since 2003, the program has been a resource for peace building, healing and reconciliation researchers and interns.
  • Development of the Twa/Growing Together as a special program for the Twa, a marginalize group of former hunters in the forests.

    Last year, a series of HROC basic workshops were conducted only for the Twa. The objective of the workshops was to help the Twa understand and heal from generational trauma. These workshops were followed by kitchen gardening trainings (Growing Together) to help the Twa improve their nutritional health. Elizabeth Cave, a Quaker from England, was the initiator and the trainer on the Growing Together project. Currently, these are the activities HROC-Rwanda is working on:

  • HROC, AVP and kitchen gardening trainings with the Twa and other groups
  • Development of the Gisenyi Peace Center
  • Scholarship program for secondary school students (see page 19)

    The goals of the program for the future are:

  • Continue developing the Gisenyi Peace Center
  • Promoting lasting relationships between the Twa and other tribes by mixing them with others in the HROC, AVP, and kitchen gardening trainings.
  • Implementing clear procedures for follow-up
  • Creating a HROC resource center
  • Using HROC to deal with crucial problems in Rwanda, like HIV/AIDS, poverty reduction, gender and domestic based violence
  • Continue developing the scholarship program
  • Networking with other programs to promote complementarities and collaboration

I was among the people who were invited to attend the workshop, but I could not come. The reason for me to attend this one is because my wife came to the previous workshop. She was totally changed. We used to fight almost every day, but after she came from the workshop she testified to me, and her positive changes made me want to attend, too. I want to thank HROC and the people who send you here in Kageyo [the place of the workshop] because you helped us. I now know how to deal with my anger and decided to live peacefully with my wife. We are going to plant the tree of trust in this village and elsewhere. Thank you also to train our people, who are going to help us to heal from our wounds. I’m sure that that they are going to be important people to others [Hutu and Tutsi]not only for the marginalized people [Twa]. Etienne, Twa HROC participant.

Three people volunteered to show me what they were growing. Two had small circular 'kitchen gardens' and one in addition had mushrooms in one section of her unfinished house. The third, Agnes, was the star. Using only seeds saved from my donation last year or collected from her own plantings, she had squashes and gourds climbing over a framework to shade her compost heap, beans for drying and beans for eating green, five car tire beds of African greens, a patch of spinach and beets, and some raised beds of potatoes and maize. There was even a tomato growing against the side of the house. Elizabeth Cave, extended service volunteer.
I am so happy with the teaching. My wife and I are old and we are alone. After the teachings, I began to be active and to grow food for the two of us. In my small garden, I have harvested three times and I try to water even in the dry spells. The teaching encourages us to try to live in this hard place. Gregorie, Twa participant

My children had diarrhea all the time. After the teaching, we eat vegetables every day. Before the teaching we had many conflicts at home. After the trauma teaching, our conflicts are resolved. Julienne, Twa participant

Before the training last year, when I saw the soil I thought I couldn’t live here. After I recognized my trauma, built thrust, I can now live here. I wanted to give vegetables to my children, but didn’t know how and I didn’t know how necessary they are. After the training, I know what I’m doing when I cook. Jacqueline, Twa participant.