Prison Fellowship Rwanda initiated Ubumwe Project in 2015 both in Bugesera and Ngoma Prisons as a pilot project. Ubumwe Project aims at bringing together Genocide survivors and their offenders and their families to a place where repentance and forgiveness occur.
Coming together offers a space where offenders confess their complicity and crimes committed during the Genocide against the Tutsi; apologizing to the families they offended. Through the word of God, survivors are encouraged to forgive as well. With this approach, both parties base on the Restorative Justice based principles to streingthen and foster unity and social cohesion.
Several hundreds of prisoners had written letters of apology to the families they offended; they were also disclosing details associated with their involvement in the killings. Later, when they were facilitated by trained mediators, they ended up apologizing to their victims’s families.
Genocide survivors went through a series of training and counselling sessions to help them deal with the trauma caused by the tragic events they experienced learned how to be resilient despite challenges they are faced with. Most of all, they were trained on how they can use forgiveness to improve their mental and spritual life which eventually affect their physical life. After a significant amount of time, they managed to forgive their offenders and were freed indeed. They did not only unite with their offenders but also with the families of offenders who in many cases were not getting along with them.
The families of offenders were also reached out to stand in the gap and apologize to the Genocide survivors. In most cases, as said earlier, they would blame survivors on the incarceration of the families in prisons, through this project they faced the truth about crimes their family members in prisons actually committed with the help of facilitators, they successfully apologized and expressed their remorse towards Genocide survivors. After meeting these groups, the following phases were to gather offenders, their families and their victim’s families at respective Sectors in different districts. Such events are purposefully held before the entire community. Offenders publically apologized for the crimes they committed and survivors forgave
In general, the total number of prison offenders that participated in this project since 2015-2017 is 243 from prisons of Bugesera, Rwamagana, and Ngoma. And over 406 victims and families of prisoners directly participated from districts of Bugesera, Kayonza, Ngoma, Gatsibo and Rwamagana respectful engaged in project Ubumwe.
In 2017, in Bugesera district, the community event was held on 10th August 2017 with 81 both victims and families of prisoners who participated in the reconciliation process and 29 prisoners from Bugesera prison. They were 30 that initially enrolled in the project but one dropped out for his one reason.
Significant impact was observed since this project launched in terms of apology letters written in favor of survivors in whom former offenders disclosed their role and revealed considerable information surrounding the deaths of the victims they did not provide during Gacaca courts. Genocide survivors have made an outstanding step to forgive those who masscred their loved ones. Through this brave and bold step in some instances they did not ask to be compensated for their properties destroyed or looted during the genocide.
Looking back at the trends since Ubumwe project started, Genocide survivors became more and more free and libarated from the pain of the past through genuine and sincere forgiveness they freely offered to their direct offenders. This unprecedented action of reconcilation on behalf of Genocide survivors and former offenders is being made possible by the determination on both sides to nurture the family hood among many things.
The project’s goal our goal is to bring the perpetrators, victims, their families and communities together – in other words, all those affected by the Genocide – in order to affect reconciliation and restoration on a deep heart and practical level that have the following outcomes:
- Free the perpetrators and the victims, as well as their families from the bondage of shame, unforgiveness, hatred, revenge, and Genocide ideology where it still exists, so that they can become contributing members of the New Rwanda where all people regard themselves as Rwandans, not as communities identified and separated by ethnicity;
- Heal the wounds and memories of the trauma of the Genocide against the Tutsi;
- Foster peace-building in all the communities of Rwanda creating a peaceful legacy for future generations of Rwandans;
- Encourage and help all the parties to work together for the development and economic upliftment of their communities, which also leads to building trust and social cohesion;
- Be a model for all other prisons and communities in Rwanda (and other countries) in post-conflict situations) to follow;
Today this journey continues and it is a big contribution to the process of unity and reconcilation, such a stunning legacy to future generation in Rwandan society.
One prisoner by the name of Bakomeza celestin thanked the survivor called Mukakarangwa Ernestine whom he offended during the genocide for forgiving him of his crimes he committed against her and the family in general. Prisoner (Celestin) he said, I have been not at peace all time whenever I reflash back what I did to you. And I was asking myselft all the time how I offended you but do not know what to do. Today, am very thankful for your forgiveness. And my heart is now relieved. thank you very much.
The prisoners’ mother also said, I did not know that my son did a such crime. I thought he was forcely accused and got prisoned for other reasons beacause he never revealed his crimes to our family. I was informed about this when I received your confession letter. Now that I know, I want to thank you Ernestine for your mercy and tell you to forgive our family for the crimes our son caused you.
Mukakarangwa Ernestine, a survor of genocide, said today I have forgivene you because you told me the whole truth about what you did aganinst us. I remember, after killing my relatives, how you threw me into water to be drawn but luckliy I survived. Now to come forward and truly revealed and accepted to your family about this crime for the first time, we have forgiven you with my children. This is what we want to teach the generation to come and build peace that based on love and forgiveness which will avoid Genocide to happen again.