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After Surviving Rwandan Genocide, Musabyemungu Talks Forgiveness

“Amahoro” means peace in Kinyarwanda, Pascasie Musabyemungu told the audience gathered in Stokes 195 South Tuesday night, teaching them how to sing the song of peace she learned in Rwanda, her native land.

The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) student ambassadors hosted Musabyemungu as part of CRS’ “rice bowl” campaign, which spans the length of Lent and encourages students to donate to CRS and learn more about social justice issues across the world. This week, the campaign is focusing specifically on Rwanda, surrounding Musabyemungu’s talk.

Musabyemungu showed a picture of herself as a teenager in Rwanda. At this point in her life, she said, she never would have imagined that she would eventually be where she is today—in the United States.

She also never dreamed, she said, that she would have the large family that she has now—four daughters and four grandchildren. She showed the audience a photo of them, too.

Next, Musabyemungu showed a picture of two young twin boys hugging each other. They had been fighting, she said, and their mother ordered them to stop fighting and to forgive one another. This, Musabyemungu believes, is what we need to teach all of our children—forgiveness.

“My passion is to see people happy.”

Rwanda, Musabyemungu said, is about the size of Maryland. There are national parks with zebras, gorillas, and giraffes, and the main cash crops are tea and coffee.

“It is a very beautiful country,” she said.

While the country is small, she said, it is the most densely populated country in Africa. A large portion of the country’s population is made up of women and children. Because there is so little land for so many people, malnutrition is widespread.

CRS implemented a program of 1,000 days, she said, to nourish pregnant mothers and teach them to use local produce in order for their children to maintain balanced diets. For example, they showed mothers how to turn carrots into carrot juice and soybeans into soy milk for their infants.

CRS also established Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC), a program meant to educate people on finances. With the money the Rwandans learn to save, Musabyemungu said, they can improve their farming techniques and buy more livestock.

According to the United Human Rights Council’s website, the Hutu, the majority ethnic group in Rwanda, began to systematically kill the Tutsi, a minority group, in 1994. It is estimated that around 75 percent of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was killed in the genocide.

Following this event, Musabyemungu said, many people fled to neighboring countries.

It was not the case, however, that only the victims of the genocide were suffering. The perpetrators had also been wounded from it. Rwanda was set into a journey for forgiveness, she said, but it took time to forgive.

Musabyemungu showed a picture of a man and woman who were married after the genocide. The man was from a perpetrator family, she said, while the woman was from a victim family.

The man’s father was able to repent, which took great courage, Musabyemungu said, and the woman’s mother was able to forgive. The mother said that in doing so she hoped to improve the lives’ of future generations.

“If you were them, would you ever forgive?” Musabyemungu asked the audience.

God acts in every human being, she believes, but we need peacebuilding groups like CRS to help promote forgiveness.

“Every day we struggle with simple conflicts with each other, and we don’t want to seek forgiveness,” she said.

One of the programs established by CRS is composed only of women, she said. The goal is to provide them with a skill set that will allow them to go out and be successful in promoting peace. The group, however, also allows women of various backgrounds to form unexpected friendships.

“All can live together—they live together, work together, do business together,” she said.

At first, Musabyemungu said, many of the women were reluctant to join the nutrition program. The women, however, grow to love CRS because of the bonds they formed with other women and the positive impacts the classes have had on their socioeconomic standings.

Because families in Rwanda often have around seven children, Musabyemungu said, parents struggle to support their families.

Women are traditionally the caregivers in the family, but CRS has a male-engagement program that allows men to watch the nutrition classes. While most keep their distance at first, she said, many of the men are actively engaged in the workshops by the end.

CRS has contributed to many developments in Rwanda, both big and small. For example, the people only began to wear shoes five years ago to promote better hygiene. To Americans, this may seem trivial, but for them it was a large change, she said.

Musabyemungu believes that in working through the CRS she is contributing to a better world. And she has been motivated to stay at the CRS because she sees how influential these programs are to the people they serve.

“My passion is to see people happy,” Musabyemungu said.

Photo Courtesy of the Catholic Relief Services

March 3, 2016