25 years ago their country was torn apart but today people in Rwanda are looking to a brighter future – and they have thanked the people of Ireland for helping them through their darkest hour.
Today marks 25 years since the end of the Rwandan genocide, when up to one million people were killed in just 100 days.
The genocide saw members of the Hutu ethnic group target members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Today, thanks to a reconciliation programme funded by donations to Trócaire, people from the different groups are living in peace, determined to never let hate divide them again.
Immaculée (54) and Vianney (60) are living proof of the power of reconciliation. Immaculée’s entire family, including her husband and three children, was killed during the genocide, while Vianney took part in the killings.
Today, they are working together as friends.
Immaculée says she “lost hope in life” for a long time after her family was killed. It was her introduction into a reconciliation group, funded by Trócaire, that changed her life.
There, she came face-to-face with Vianney, who she suspected of killing her 9-year-old son.
Vianney confessed to her that he had killed two of her cousins but assured her he was not the person who killed her son.
“To tell you the truth - I wasn’t immediately convinced – I was still suspecting him - but as the journey continued I believed he didn’t kill my child.”
Forgiveness did not come immediately, but over time Immaculée and Vianney spent more time together. She realised that he was also suffering from what he did.
“At the start I couldn’t understand how I would ever be able to tell others and talk about what had happened to me,” she says. “But I then realised that both survivors and perpetrators were traumatised in one way or another. When Vianney talked to me about love versus hatred - that is how the whole journey really started.”
Twenty-five years on, Vianney still can’t understand what drove him to kill. Political leaders stirred up hatred and encouraged the violence. They were swept up in it, he says.
“For me, it has been a long journey,” he says. “At a time, I did consider suicide because I couldn’t bear to look back at what I had done.”
It has been a long journey for Immaculée and Vianney, one that inspires hope.
“We are now friends,” he says. “When people see and hear the example of what Immaculée and I are doing, hopefully they will be doing the same. Rwanda will be better.”
Immaculée has thanked people in Ireland for helping them on their reconciliation journey.
“We are grateful for the support of Trócaire,” she says. “It is important that we give our testimony so that the younger generation have it on record and can improve the future.”
To learn more about Immaculée and Vianney's journey watch this short video here.
Josiane’s father, sister and two brothers were among the people murdered during the Rwandan genocide.
Her mother struggled to provide food for her in the aftermath – but today Josiane is a university graduate working for Irish aid agency Trócaire in Rwanda.
Her remarkable story shows how life in Rwanda has transformed from 25 years ago.
Josiane was just three-years-old when the genocide happened. In 2004, when she was 13, she featured on the Trócaire box, which was distributed to one million homes across Ireland.
The 2004 Trócaire Lent campaign changed her life. Thanks to donations from the public, Josiane and her family, along with thousands of others, received support and equipment to help them improve their farming. This meant they could feed their families, earn an income and allowed the children to continue in school. Today, 15 years later, Josiane, 28, is now married with a beautiful old baby boy, Gianni. Graduating with a qualification in business management and accounting, she now works in Trócaire’s office in Rwanda.
“I am very happy,” says Josiane. “Life was very difficult after the genocide. We didn’t have enough to eat and we couldn’t afford the fees to allow me to continue my studies after primary school. But thanks to Trocaire supporters, not only was I able to go to secondary school, but I then went to university. Trócaire, and the supporters across Ireland, made my dreams come true.
“I am very proud that I now work for Trócaire and can help others, as well as taking care of my baby son. I want to say a big thank you to Trocaire supporters in Ireland - you have helped to change my life and that of my family, and you should be proud that you are helping so many people.”
Rose Mary (28) and Daniel (26) live in a different Rwanda to the country that was torn apart 25 years ago.
They were young children when the genocide happened, but today they live in a peaceful country that has been transformed since the dark days of 1994.
Rose Mary was 3-years-old when the genocide happened. She can’t remember it but she does remember the years of trauma that followed.
“When I was in secondary school, many of my classmates would get traumatised because they had flashbacks,” she says. “They would have to be taken to hospital and it would make me very sad.”
Today, she has two young children of her own. She says it is important for young people to know what happened during the genocide.
“When we talk about genocide I think there is a lot to learn. And for us as the next generation, we have the responsibility to tell younger generations so they know that there is nothing to gain from division.
“Learning about it makes us say ‘Never Again’. Never again to what happened. Never again to war. Never again to division and discrimination. I think this is very important for our country.”
Daniel shares Rose Mary’s optimism about the future for Rwanda. He was just 1-years-old when a million people were murdered.
Most of the people in his community fled but there was a severe food shortage in his region so his parents did not have money or the strength to flee.
Thankfully, they survived. While he can’t remember the genocide, he learned about it in school.
“We were told how it happened and what to do if we hear people talking about genocide ideology – how to report it so that it doesn’t happen again,” he says.
He believes his generation is more conscious of the dangers of division. He is also very thankful that the country is now safe for him and his family.
“We have security which is so important – and that means we can work freely to make an income,” he says. “I am confident that my children will have a good education. The genocide cannot take place here again.”
Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra thanked people in Ireland for their role in helping to rebuild Rwanda.
"Rwanda's transformation is truly incredible," she says. "The country has moved on so much from the horrors of 1994. A generation of young people who grew up after the killings live in a country that is peaceful. There are still huge challenges in Rwanda but the progress over the last 25 years has been remarkable.
"People in Ireland should feel very proud of the role they played in helping the people of this beautiful country to build a new future."