By Sacha Gyapjas
On Tuesday 18 January, we had the first meetings of our virtual trip to Rwanda. I must say that I was quite nervous before we started, because I had never done interviews like this before. Questions like “Will there be awkward silences?”, “What if I say the wrong things?” and “How do I show that I care?” were running through my mind in the morning. Luckily, my worries turned out to be unnecessary. The meetings felt natural and informal, and I found our two interviewees very approachable. The first meeting was with Freddy Mutanguha, the executive director of Aegis Trust and a genocide survivor. The second meeting was with Consolee Nishimwe, motivational speaker and also a genocide survivor. I felt honored that I got the chance to hear about their stories and their work first hand, and I think most of the students from Peace Lab share this opinion with me.
I must say that the personal details really resonated with me. When we were doing research about Rwanda, we mostly focused on the bigger picture. Although the analysis and history lessons helped me understand Rwanda better, the personal stories were more impactful. Mr. Mutangha talked about how his work as peacebuilder helped him process his trauma and his emotions. He told us that he has more peace of mind than some of his peers, because he has actively been working on rebuilding the country. Another detail that stuck with me was when Mr. Mutangha told us in the beginning that creating a new family was very important to him because he lost his own family during the genocide. These are not the kinds of details you read in academic papers, but they are very important in order to understand the peacebuilding process.
During the second meeting we got to listen to Mrs. Nishimwe, who talked about what happened to her during the genocide and how she recovered afterwards. When preparing the pre-meeting presentation, I read her story, but hearing her talk about the actual things that happened to her had much more effect on me than I could have imagined. She was willing to share her emotions and pain with so much integrity and openness. Her presence was very warm and she had an amazing smile. She is not the kind of person I will quickly forget. Especially as a woman, I found her story very hopeful. What happened to her can unfortunately happen to women everywhere, but she is living proof that forgiveness and vulnerability go a longer way than fear and hatred.
In such a short time I have already learned an incredible amount. Instead of the stories bringing me down, I haven’t felt so inspired in a very long time. Of course there are a lot of emotions that come up, but this is part of the process and I embrace them. Whether it is on a personal level or an international level, I truly believe that we can learn a lot from Rwanda and its people.