Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Something That Works

One of the interesting organizations that I was introduced to and was able to see their work up close and personal was called REACH. The name is an acronym for Reconciliation Evangelism and Christian Healing. The goal of the group is to enhance local capacity for healing, reconciliation and peace-building in communities deeply affected by violent conflict.

One aspect of the program is providing training for healing reconciliation and peace building and to make a positive contribution during the process of genocide prisoners’ reintegration to the community. It is really amazing to see people standing together telling their stories when some were the victims and others were the victimizers. Women spoke of seeing their families killed and fleeing the violence. Another woman had been in prison and her husband was still in prison because of the roles they played during the genocide. Now they had been brought together. Released prisoners built shelters for survivors who lost their homes.

Counseling service for suffers of trauma HIV/AIDS is another part of Reach’s mission. One of the atrocities during the genocide was the rape of Tutsi women by men who were known AIDS carriers. That act was considered crueler than the more direct killing. Another component is peace education for children to ensure that increasing numbers of children in our target areas have access to educational opportunities that promote peace, tolerance, reconciliation and human rights.

These goals are achieved by The School for Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation. The school develops a human resource base of peace-builders with the knowledge, skills and qualifications required for facilitating effective action and movement towards peace and reconciliation at different levels of society in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. I attended a graduation ceremony for 40 women that finished the program.

The organization was founded in 1996 by Philbert Kalisa, a priest with the Anglican Church. Philbert was born in 1966 to Rwandan parents who were exiled in a refugee camp in Burundi due to the killings and other serious human rights violations against Tutsis which started in 1959. While he was pursuing his BA degree in theology at Trinity College Bristol in 1995, Philbert finally got a chance to visit his home country of Rwanda, which was then still in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. He was shocked at the devastation of his country and learned about the great suffering of the Rwandan people who were confronting enormous difficulties as they were trying to rebuild their lives. He also observed signs of deep trauma, hopelessness, fears and hatred among the people whom he met during his visit. This home visit inspired him to seek ways through which the process of healing and reconciliation could be advanced among the citizens of his native land. He then conducted research for his dissertation on 'The Ministry of Reconciliation in Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide' through which he explored the role of the Church in bringing about healing, reconciliation and unity among Rwandans.

After the completion of his studies in UK in August 1996, he came straight to Rwanda with his family in order to establish an independent NGO working for healing and reconciliation among Rwandan people. Responding to his request for support his friends and other Rwandans from different Christian denominations assisted him to set up REACH/Rwanda and establish its constitutions and other governance policies. The organization then began to develop contacts with various denominations in the country so that the ministry could become an interdenominational ministry. Since 1998, the organization has trained 3,680 people including local religious and government leaders as well as women and youth who belong to different Christian denominations or a Muslim community. There are 15 associations or 'Unity Groups' being set up with about 200 members. These groups are engaged in various social, economic and cultural activities such as sports, music and dancing, bible study, group savings and different types of income generating activities (e.g. craft making, animal rearing, crops trading). The Unity Groups have inspired other members of the local communities through their activities based on the spirit of unity and reconciliation.

One of the dancers with REACH. Some are part of the Rwandan National Dance Troupe

Drummers providing music for the dancers

The group I was travelling with.

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