When Sr. Mary Rose Mukukibogo first approached women in Gisagara, southern Rwanda, about starting an agricultural association, they were furious. It was 1997, three years after the 100-day genocide in 1994 that killed more than a million people during the fighting and the chaos afterwards. Mukukibogo, a member of Les Soeurs Auxiliatrices (Helpers of the Holy Souls), remembers walking from house to house in the district near the southern city of Butare, asking them if they'd like to join a farming cooperative.
Four Kenyan sisters from the Little Daughters of St. Joseph Congregation run the Muyanza Health Center for the Byomba Diocese, but the missionary sisters are providing more than just health care. Seeing them as a rock of support for the community, residents have begun to accept the sisters into the fabric of their lives. In a country that is trying to outrun the shadow of its own history, trust can be the most precious commodity. And trust is something the sisters are slowly nurturing, despite their outsider status, as residents of Muyanza begin to reveal the terrible things they witnessed.
In the 23 years since the genocide, Rwanda has developed at a faster pace than surrounding countries. In the last decade, a government-mandated monthly day of community service, called Umuganda, has saved the country the equivalent of US$128.5 million, and the service day not only helps repair and clean every community, it provides a way for people to get to know their neighbors.
Benebikira 'Sister Listeners' offer informal counseling to both victims and perpetrators of the violence during the Rwanda genocide, seeking to forge a bridge of understanding. Their roles as listeners are especially important during the anniversary of the genocide.
Rwanda is a beautiful country, with hills as far as the eye can see. The complicated history and widespread government control are a bit more difficult to see, hovering just beneath the surface of Rwanda's status as the 'poster child of Africa.'
Two decades after the Rwandan genocide, its child survivors are grown and making lives of their own, and the Abizeramariya Sisters who took them in are returning boisterous orphanages to their original purpose as homes for impoverished elderly people.