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Grief and Hope: A Rwandan Story

This year, as World Relief celebrates 80 years of responding to the world’s greatest crises, we’re reflecting on our past and honoring the many people and stories that have shaped us One of those stories occurred in 1994 following the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

World Relief was one of the first organizations to arrive with emergency assistance. For 30 years, our team in Rwanda has worked alongside churches, governments and local communities to bring long-term development to Rwanda. 

Today, World Relief Rwanda staff member Jacqueline Mukashema shares her story, casting a hopeful vision for Rwanda and the rest of the world. At a time when violent conflicts are increasing worldwide, we are grateful for Jacqueline’s story and her bold call for peace and reconciliation.

April 7, 2024 marks the 30th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, a grim moment in my country’s history and one that I remember vividly.

I grew up in Rusizi District on the western side of Rwanda. The genocide was carried out in my home village the same way it was throughout the rest of the country. Although communication technology was not as advanced as it is today, information was still able to spread, proof that the genocide was well planned.  

In Rwanda, the post-independence period (1962-1994) was run under a divisive and discriminatory ideology, where the successive regimes considered some of its citizens as foreigners, enemies and moles in the open. Most of these citizens were denied education, jobs and other rights including trading licenses and driving permits, to name a few. This discriminatory ideology culminated in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, killing a large number of people in a just few days (about 1,070,014 Tutsi killed in only 100 days). The genocide left behind around 300,000 orphans and non-accompanied minors, about 500,000 widows and over 3,000,000 refugees.

My home was completely destroyed during the genocide, and the people I lived with had been killed. By God’s protection, I survived and left my village at the end of April. In September, I was blessed to get to travel to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), which was the secured area at the time. I joined my uncles who had just returned from another country.

Jacqueline (far right) and World Relief Rwanda team members Emily Kankindi, Clemence Nkulikiyinka and Pascasie Nsanzabozwa speak at Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA, teaching about World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zone model and how local churches in Rwanda are serving their communities.

Grief in the Aftermath

The aftermath of the genocide was horrible. Everywhere I looked dead bodies lay in the streets. Dogs roamed around, becoming aggressive as they got used to feeding on the bodies. Most of the homes had been destroyed. Hospitals were filled with wounded people, but had very few supplies and almost no personnel to care for the wounded. There was no security. Widows and orphans were desperate. Hopelessness pervaded every corner of the city. 

Survivors were very scared. They had lost everything. They were traumatized, and their trust in others was gone. They felt that no one could understand their sorrow, which was true. The few people who were out walking around cried in deep grief as they retold stories of how their loved ones were brutally killed. It seemed impossible that peace would ever exist again. No one could imagine that the city would ever be rebuilt.

I, too, felt little hope. I was ready to die, actually. My prayer was to die soon because I didn’t have any hope of living when I looked at the circumstances around me. I couldn’t expect that life would ever have meaning or flavor or that the country would ever have peace again. I was full of tears as the horrifying memories of noise and sounds of both perpetrators and victims were buried in my heart.

It was difficult for me to return to school. I didn’t have any reason to go back because life was pointless in my mind. The only thing that kept me going and convinced me to go back to school was my faith. I kept reminding myself that God loved me and trusting that, even though I didn’t feel it at the time, he was a Provider and Healer. I prayed often and read my Bible, clinging to the words in John 3:16— For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.  

Rebuilding After Genocide

During the 100 days of genocide, our country felt abandoned by the outside world. There was no global response. After the genocide, though, we began seeing NGO’s and other stakeholders come to help with food, medical supplies, blankets, rehabilitation services and more.

The soldiers who had liberated the country walked the streets saying, “Humura,” which means “don’t worry”, to everyone they saw. They were kind and supportive. Their words were comforting and powerful in restoring peace of mind and building trust and hope.

World Relief arrived shortly after the genocide to provide humanitarian support as well. They brought food, clothing, shelter, medical supplies and counseling to all who were affected. In addition to meeting these basic needs, it was clear that a long road lay ahead for rebuilding peace and finding reconciliation. As Rwandans, we’d need to confront all forms of discrimination and exclusion. Unity and reconciliation was the only option for our country to emerge from its divided past. 

We’d need to redefine the Rwandan identity, replacing the ethnic identities of the past with a shared sense of Rwandanness. We’d need to rebuild trust in our leaders and create a culture of responsiveness, transparency and accountability across the public and private sectors. And we’d need to establish equitable and inclusive policies that addressed issues on gender, disability, poverty alleviation, education and public service.

It has been 30 years since the genocide took place, and I am proud to say Rwanda is a completely different place than it was back then. It was not easy to get people to believe that unity and reconciliation would be possible after the genocide, but we have proven it is possible if concerned people own the process and commit to changing their thoughts and behaviors.

I have watched as our nation and our people have owned the healing process and committed to whatever was necessary to see it through. We’ve accepted and acknowledged what happened. We’ve set goals and thought often of all the reasons peace and reconciliation were worth fighting for. We’ve monitored our progress, acknowledged failure and learned from it. We have worked hard and forgiven often, and we have celebrated every victory and achievement. 

Women in Rwanda celebrate International Women's Day at World Relief
Jacqueline (far right) celebrates International Women’s Day with other members of the World Relief Rwanda team.

Hope for Today

Rwanda today is so different from Rwanda in 1994. Development and education has improved. Investment in youth and capacity-building initiatives have grown. Women have been lifted up and their contributions to the development of the country have been highly noticed. The government has been highly committed in bringing peace, establishing clear policies and monitoring compliance as much as possible. 

My hope is that other countries would learn from Rwanda because no one benefits from cultural or ethnic conflict in the short-term or long-term. The wounds from cultural conflict can last for years, and are felt by all. Prevention is much better than having to go through a healing process so I pray that other countries would be proactive and implement strong investments in current conflict resolution strategies. 

I am grateful for the healing Rwanda has experienced. I am grateful for the healing I have experienced. I can testify that God is Protector, Provider, Healer and that he can restore life to everyone and every nation. Even now, as I know so many are struggling with fear and uncertainty, my encouragement is to trust God even during the impossible. There is no season, no conflict, no pandemic, no situation that he cannot change from dark to bright. God is faithful.

*This blog was originally published in April 2020 and was updated in 2024

Jacqueline Mukashema is the Director of Administration and Finance, World Relief Rwanda. She began working for World Relief in 2006 as a Chief Accountant and has served faithfully in various finance and administration roles. She studied accounting up to the Masters level and loves this field. She is a born again, committed Christian and is passionate about serving the vulnerable— especially orphans. In her free time she likes quality time with her family and cooking. She’s married to her husband, Jean de Dieu, and they are blessed with five children— Esther, Etienne, Ruth, Honnete and Asher.

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