In mid-1998 I drafted a reflection of my first year in Rwanda. Within 12 months I was seeing light emerging from the darkness and over-shadowing the sadness and troubles of 1994.  

Now the sun shines across Rwanda as it commemorates 25 years since the awful days of genocide. Whilst there remain many grey areas of life, I struggle to confine the achievements to a level that does not use excessive amounts of ink.

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John with a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda. PICTURE: Supplied.

 

"I want to challenge some who glance from a distance towards this tiny country and believe that things must always be black in a place like that. Here is a nation demonstrating huge potential to emerge out of sadness and troubles and progress towards fresh hope and generosity through profound change. It is a place emerging into a bright light because of constructive action born of a dream to be different."

I want to challenge some who glance from a distance towards this tiny country and believe that things must always be black in a place like that. Here is a nation demonstrating huge potential to emerge out of sadness and troubles and progress towards fresh hope and generosity through profound change. It is a place emerging into a bright light because of constructive action born of a dream to be different.

This is not the country we envisaged in the uncertain days that followed the catastrophe of early 1994. We thought it could struggle for ever – there was even a suggestion that Rwanda could be divided up between neighbouring countries.

I wonder as I wander
(the country of Rwanda)

1997
No food for sale – but poison is available
See what that can cause when you put it on the table
Such nice people – with really tough lives
A silent church – expecting others to repent
But quiet about its own past
Humans not crazy – just going mad
Not enough houses for people to stay
So many destroyed homes.
Would I live in the same street
as the murderer of my children?
Prisoners by the prison-full – sick to death of waiting
Afraid to talk about what happened.
No-one responding to the Genocide Law,
in case they become a further statistic
If you’re going for a wander, said our friend
Then I wonder what you’ll really get to see.
No, we’re going to Rwanda, said I to the friend

That’s as specific as I can be
His smile dissolved, his face was tight,
Are you O’K, will you be alright?
If you wander in Rwanda, then I really wonder…

His voice dropped off in fright

1998
Forget the rhyme, it’s too neat for Rwanda
We need something ragged and jagged and jarring
Something that tears at your heart
And pulls complacency apart
That leaves your emotions gasping
And your heart a-gaping
That gets under your skin
I’ve let the real Rwanda in, and I find there:
People of grace and hope and resilience
Of tears and sorrow, of loss and persistence
And people of healing, grace and apology
Forgiveness and tolerance,
An impossibly hope-filled story!

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John Steward with two survivors of the genocide who forgave and two who repented and apologised - "You can't tell the difference," he says. PICTURE: Supplied.

2012
Please write our stories so the world can know 
you can recover from terrible times

2018
Consider the progress:
A vision for 20 years ahead
Peace and stability, safety
Houses constructed like mushrooms 
Memorial sites established
A coffee industry on the boil
Roads paved with stones or tarmac
A new airport on the way
Schools and tertiary colleges opened
Free education for primary schools
Militia subdued
Former rebels return
Actively seeking Rwandans in exile:
‘Return to the motherland and serve your country’
Gacaca: a justice program – a world first
(perhaps never to be repeated on this earth)
Four hundred thousand cases dealt with at the grass roots
Huge attention from powerful countries and struggling ones alike
Building networks, like joining the Commonwealth
Monthly working bees country wide
Annual remembrance week
Pushing for creative technology
New hospitals and clinics
Care for the environement
Increase tree cover to 20 per cent
Solar and biogas and electricity 
Women land ownership, cooperatives
Reduce impact of HIV/AIDS
A near universal health care system
Blood deliveries by drones
Freedom of religion
Plastic banned
First country to provide on-line visas
Movie and music industry
Every family shall have their dream of owning a cow.

The list of other changes, improvements, dreams, developments and successes is long. 

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Sandi and John Steward with Josephine Munyeli who has continuously led healing events in Rwanda since 1998. PICTURE: Supplied.

The 2020 dream that was launched in 2000 has sparked a slow but sure revolution in Rwanda. 

Behind it there stands one important factor: there is a power in suffering to force us look differently at life. Many Rwandans have chosen to turn around from hatred, revenge and division to embrace their own dignity and honouring it in their enemies. With slow changes in heart, they have been re-discovering their common humanity.

To be sure, I am not speaking of all Rwandans, nor thinking of perfection, there is no sense of ‘mission accomplished’. So much need for change remains. But I do point to achievements through personal change of the kind that peace-loving humanity longs to see - and rarely do we witness it in such profound ways.

Remarkable change is easier to find in Rwanda than in other war-affected and conflict-riddled countries of the world. Words like: repentance, confession, apology, taking responsibility, speaking the truth, accepting consequences are alive in Rwanda and working their magic. The impact goes right to the heart of the big issues of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. You can see the impact of those who are healing their grief, offering forgiveness and restoring relationships by the way it is releasing energy into the family and community.

Time for action:

2019
Take a look for yourself:
Search Rwanda online
Add in words like
Gacaca, justice, recovery
vanishing point, Rwandan stories, 
from genocide to generosity,
the school of resilience.
then
Give thanks for Rwanda’s rays of hope.
Find ideas to aspire to.
Learn to practise peace.
Like so many Rwandans 
live into a better tomorrow.

And hope for those many Rwandans who still await their chance to heal and contribute, and wish for the younger generation to not be impacted by the trauma of the adults with whom they live. Pray, if you can, for their inner journey.

Melbourne-based Dr John Steward worked in Rwanda in 1997-98 and then visited every six months for nine years as a peace and reconciliation consultant for World Vision. John recently launched a study guide to offer small groups in Australia (and beyond) the chance to study the stories of change in Rwandan people and to gain personal benefit from them. This guide, 'To Live Well', is available free online at www.2live4give.org.