A Survivor's Fear & Hope

Grace at the Rwanda Youth Healing Center

"I don't know what is in other people's hearts." Grace explained to us, and then nodded somberly, yes, the genocide could happen again. Grace is the only survivor of the genocide from her family. It is clear she is fearful, "I have to be vigilant. There aren't police officers to protect everyone."

She lives alone, an unusual circumstance in Rwanda, in the capital of Kigali. The area is one of the nicest neighborhoods with palm tree lined streets and embassies all around.

23 years old with a bright smile, she is two years away from a law degree. If you met her in the U.S. you might think she was just like any other young adult with a bright future. When asked about her experience during the genocide she fights back tears and cannot do it. But she openly shares her doubts about reconciliation in her native Kinyarwanda language.

At the Rwanda Youth Healing Center (RYHC) in Ruhango, a small town 60 miles outside the capital, Grace candidly tells us that she believes some killers confess because they know they will be treated favorably by the government. A confession and apology to survivors can get a prisoner released early and yield money for them to restart their lives in society.

Counselors at the center encourage the 70 children and young adults to aim high and work hard. The group, mainly orphans, travels from across the country to come together every other month. A medical student leads the group in a discussion, he acknowledges that reconciliation is a process, "We cannot resolve in 15 years what was 30 years in the making." He stresses the importance of sharing their stories and writing about them, if they can stomach it, to cope with post-traumatic stress. For Grace on this night it is too painful. When it comes to other topics her French flows quick and easy and she even tries some English. When she gets her law degree she is unequivocal in her desire to avoid working for the government. She wants to be an advocate for the rights of children. She is eager to share more and she has invited us to visit with her in Kigali.

37 boys and 33 girls will spend the weekend at the center before scattering across the country. Each one has a tragic story to share, though they are full of smiles, laughs, hugs and affection for each other.

We will return there tomorrow and bring you more stories of the people we meet.

Adam Mazo Ruhango & Kigali, Rwanda July 18th, 2009