"My mother couldn’t tell me the truth and that broke me down to the extent that I hated everything. I felt so depressed and dejected. Self-hate had deprived me of any sense of humor, and hopelessness had preoccupied the air around me … I couldn’t see a future ahead of me in this country. I didn’t see any reason to continue with school or even work."
Ntirandekura Jean Claude is a young man (24 years), from Ngororero district, Rwanda. His father took part in the genocide against the Tutsi and as a result was jailed for his actions. Jean Claude’s attempts to find out the truth about his father’s imprisonment and how much he was involved in the genocide was futile because his mother never talked about it. His father died in prison when Jean Claude was 19 years and at level 3 of his secondary school education, and Jean Claude was never able to find out the full truth about his father. Following his father's death Jean Claude decided to leave school and started to work on tea plantations.
Jean Claude tells us that he was never happy with his own life. He grew up hating the Tutsis and his own country because of the way his mother spoke about and described the Tutsis. The only thing Jean Claude’s mother would say about his father was that he was falsely accused of committing genocide and was languishing in prison, causing their family to suffer both psychological and economic harm. And all this she attributed to the Tutsi.
"At one point I wanted to join the army, but my mother was against it and asked me, ‘what are you going to fight for? To fight for these Inyenzi (cockroaches) who imprisoned your father?’ Such narratives destroyed and left a big hole within me."
The legacies of divisionism and discrimination had taken me hostage and that was largely because of my mother’s influence. My message to parents out there is that I implore them to teach their children positive things that will help them develop, rather than the divisive ideology that has not only destroyed souls but also the country at large.
When Jean Claude lost his mother he felt alone, confused about his future, and didn’t know what to do. "I found myself in total confusion and in a dilemma that I didn’t know how to overcome. I had to go to live with my poor and vulnerable grandparents and I had a little sense of hope."
It was during this period in Jean Claude’s life that he was introduced to International Alert’s Duhuze project, by an older woman from the community, Speciosa Mukarwego (76), who is a member of the Duhuze dialogue forum/group.
"I was introduced to Duhuze by this (point to a woman) old woman who brought me to a dialogue group and later introduced me to a village savings and loans association (VSLA) started by the project. This is where the story of my 'new' life began," stressed Jean Claude.
At the dialogue group Jean Claude was truly able to talk and interact freely with others about the genocide and its consequences, it allowed him to see and appreciate the history of his country and for the first time find a space where he could find help to deal with his wounds. The aim of the group is to help Jean Claude and others like him access psychosocial support to talk about the genocide, deal with the transgenerational trauma that was passed down to them, improve trust among the diverse groups, reconcile with each other and together diagnose problems and find peaceful solutions.
"Through my involvement in the Duhuze project, I have started to see things differently. The empathy that I had never experienced in my entire life – people expressed love and a sense of togetherness, which wasn’t discriminatory at all."
Thanks to his involvement in the Duhuze project, Jean Claude decided to go back to school at the age of 22.
"From Duhuze I was able to go back to school. I had dropped out while I was in form 3 but members of my dialogue group contributed towards buying me uniforms and books and other school materials. I rejoined form 4 and now I am now in the last year of my high school education. I finally have hope. I can foresee a bright future."
Village savings and loans association
Jean Claude is also part of the VSLA group. VSLA allows its members to borrow money without collateral and be able to start up small income generating activities. Mukarwego, out of sympathy, pays Jean Claude’s weekly contribution of 200frw to the VSLA to keep him part of the group and allows him to continue going to school. This has kept Jean Claude feeling like he is part of the family, loved and accepted. He uses part of his share to buy school materials and uniforms to support his schooling.
Mukarwego and Jean Claude have developed a strong relationship with each other, supporting one another in the best way they can. Jean Claude thanks Mukarwego for all her support by helping with her house chores and digging and cultivating her gardens.
"I call her mother. She has done tremendous things for me … I didn’t think I would ever have someone like this in my life. For me, life was bitter, but I received a glimmer of hope with the members I interact with in the Duhuze project. I am so thankful to them and those who thought about this project. I am really a changed person and my future is in my hands!"
There are many young people like Jean Claude who are trying to cope with the consequences of transgenerational trauma associated with the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi being passed down. Therefore, the aim of the Duhuze project is to address this trauma among young people, through our three-tiered approach of psychosocial support, dialogue and economic strengthening. This helps them to freely talk about and deal with the issues that affect them, create empathy, improve trust among diverse groups, build economic stability and promote social cohesion.
Jean Claude promised to keep engaging with the Duhuze project, even after finishing school to ensure its legacy is not forgotten, and that more people can benefit from it and work together to build and maintain peace.