Reconciliation and reintegration in Rwanda – a photostory

In 1994, over one million people were killed in Rwanda’s genocide against the Tutsi. As neighbour turned upon neighbour, and family member turned upon family member, everyone in the country was impacted.

Two decades on, Rwanda has emerged as one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. The government’s efforts to bring about reconciliation have greatly inspired this turnaround. However, many Rwandans today still feel traumatised by what they experienced.

These stories and photos by award-winning photojournalist Carol Allen-Storey explore how our trauma counselling and dialogue clubs have helped some Rwandans progress on the long and challenging path towards rebuilding their lives.

Over the last seven years, we have been working with five local partners to provide this support to over 5,600 people, including former combatants, ex-prisoners accused of involvement in the genocide, genocide survivors, women and youth.

→ Read our newly released paper on our experience of this process

“When the genocide began, a Hutu family hid me. The militias knew about their protecting me and murdered them in retaliation for hiding a Tutsi. For years I was deeply depressed; I cried daily. Trauma counselling opened a door to restarting my life, to having hope.” Delphine, survivor

“The Interahamwe kept me alive for their sexual entertainment. I was abused daily by so many men that I lost count. Rape is the most humiliating experience because it creates eternal shame … The trauma programme helped me understand how to manage loss and let go of anger.” Claudine, survivor

An ex-prisoner is counselled by the local dialogue club in Gisagara district about how to cope with his wife’s rejection following his return home. He feels that his masculinity has been stolen. The club members gently advise him to show her love and romance, not anger.

Hutus and Tutsis work together to build a new house for one of the members of their dialogue club who had lost everything during the genocide.

Hutus and Tutsis who meet during dialogue sessions are encouraged to work side by side on business enterprises, such as this pineapple plantation, sowing the seeds of economic growth and reconciliation. Nearly 200 small businesses and 300 jobs have been created so far.

We provided financial support to these young people to join Gacuriro Vocational Training School, which provided them with practical skills training. Born amid the horrors of the genocide, young people have inherited the scars of their parents’ generation, influencing how they relate to those around them.

“During the genocide, my parents were severely beaten and tortured. Miraculously they escaped. The perpetrators were strangers and my parents cannot reconcile their pain nor forgive. But I have a different view … If we can’t learn to move forward and let go of misguided prejudice, we will have no future.” Aline, survivors’ child

“I grew up in a cloud of darkness with the knowledge that my father was a brutal killer serving his term in jail for his crimes. It must be explained to Rwandese that what happened during the genocide must never be repeated, and left in the past, but not forgotten.” Valentine, perpetrator’s child (third from left, with classmates)

Schools throughout the Save district gather in a wood for a joint annual commemoration to honour all the teachers murdered during the genocide.

“Before joining the peace club, I was pessimistic about life, because of the endless poverty. My dream is to become a government leader working with the youth and to teach them about love, because during the genocide the marauding militants extinguished love. There is a wonderful quote that inspires me, because it helps me to be optimistic: ‘Nta joro ridacya’ – there is no night that doesn’t turn to day.” Patience, survivor’s daughter

“The peace club has been instrumental in teaching me to be community minded, to help our neighbours. It taught me the idea of social responsibility, especially caring for orphans and widows from the genocide. For example, we learned how to help widows with their loneliness. My dream is to study medicine and specialise in research to cure AIDS.” Goreth, prisoner’s daughter

These efforts have been supported by MISEREOR and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Photos © Carol Allen-Storey for International Alert