Week One: Peacemakers in Rwanda.

By Acharya Fleet Shunryu Maull, Roshi. 

As one would imagine, our second visit to Rwanda has been a deep plunge into not knowing and bearing witness. As I write this report, I’m acutely aware that 17 years ago the 1994 Rwandan genocide was just about to unleash 100 days of the darkest horrors imaginable on the people of Rwanda, by its end leaving the country in ruins and the people profoundly traumatized.

We are getting up at 5 am tomorrow, April 7th, in order to reach the national stadium by 6 am when people begin filing in for the opening event of the national genocide commemoration and mourning week. We arrived here a week ago, the airport and drive into Kigali, the capital, now familiar from our visit to Rwanda last year for the first Rwanda Bearing Witness retreat. We’ve had a packed week, numerous meetings with our growing peacebuilding coalition partners, the key government agencies and NGO’s involved in healing, reconciliation and genocide prevention work here. Most of the leaders we met with are genocide survivors themselves, courageously dedicated to rebuilding their country and creating a future for their children and future generations.

We led a three-day trauma counselor training April 3 – 5, introducing 65 genocide survivors working through Rwanda as trauma counselors to mindfulness and presence practices, deep listening, reflective listening and our peace circle practice, also known as council, listening circles, and talking stick circles. Our goal was to train and empower them to take the peace circle practice back to their towns and villages as a tool for healing trauma, for unity and reconciliation work, conflict resolution and community building.

The group appeared very inspired to take these practices back to their communities, and we are now trying to envision how to follow up with them and support the growth of a peacemaker circle movement in Rwanda. The clear highlight of the trauma counselor training for us (the training team) was the traditional Rwandan singing and dancing that became our way of generating energy at the beginning of the morning and afternoon sessions each day.

Today we travel 2.5 hours to Butare to meet with the director of the National Museum of Rwanda. We had a great meeting and then spent several hours touring the fascinating exhibits of Rwandan history and traditional culture. We also visited a training center where young Rwandans learn traditional crafts including basket weaving, beading, pottery and metallurgy.

Also, in Butare we me with an organization called AIM, named for two famous peacemakers in Rwanda. As the AIM director described their vision, values, mission and activities, we felt like we were looking in a mirror. He could have been speaking for Peacemaker Institute. Their foundational principles include: assurance (a belief in the unconditional goodness of all human beings), resilience (training in emotional resiliency through awareness and practices like Tai Chi) and inclusion (not excluding anyone and recognizing the oneness and interdependence of all human beings.  We all (both organizations) felt like we had discovered true soul mates and we committed to finding ways to work together in the future.

Our second Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat begins Sunday, April 10th. Last year the retreat was quite small, being designed with nine Rwandan and nine international participants. This year we have 35 Rwandan participants, mostly senior staff from our coalition partner organizations, and 18 international participants.

The plunge into not knowing and bearing witness began in earnest for me five days ago when we visited to Kigali Genocide Memorial Center to visit with its director and our good friend, Freddy Mutanguha. While waiting to meet Freddy we wandered through the museums, where we spent and entire day last year and will do so again this year.

The reality of genocide is truly unspeakable and unfathomable. I left the museum with my heart shattered into a thousand peaces. The work of re-gathering the pieces may not begin until I leave Rwanda 13 days from now.


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