This weekend America celebrates the independence of our nation and the freedoms we so greatly value. But this day also holds special significance for another country: July 4 is Liberation Day in Rwanda – a day to remember the 800,000 innocent men, women and children murdered in the 1994 genocide.
And while mourning the past violence, we see that violence continues to be a threat to the safety of children of Rwanda. However, there is a narrative of hope. Philip Reilly, Director of Development & Mobilization of IJM Canada, recently visited IJM Rwanda and shares a memorable experience of restoration in the following blog post.
Arriving into Kigali under the cover of a star-filled sky, meant we had a night of sleep before our first glimpse of the land of a thousand hills. As the sun rose, causing a faint mist to appear across the city, we made our way to the office for what was to be one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Africa – attending an aftercare graduation of the children who had successfully gone through IJM’s post trauma therapy.
IJM Rwanda, which began its operations in 2008, addresses cases of sexual violence against children. Since 2008, we have seen over 60 children rescued, 180 in aftercare and trauma-focused therapy, and over 65 convictions. The relentless dedication of the team is slowly helping to cultivate a new story for the children whose lives have been broken by violence.
Before the event, Baraka, director of aftercare, prepared us for some of the stories we would encounter. Displaying kindness, grace, insight and expertise, Baraka is well-known and respected in her field. Baraka and her team of equally capable social workers and aftercare specialists care deeply for their clients. Their role is to enter into the pain of each child, preparing them to testify against their perpetrator and gently guide them through post-trauma counselling helping to forge, in the midst of their pain and agony, restoration and hope for the future.
As I tried to imagine the depth of their work with each child, my mind returned to my own children. As the father of two young boys, it’s very easy to take for granted the security and safety they experience in Vancouver. So it should be for the children of Rwanda. Children should not be taken from a sidewalk when walking home from church, raped and left for dead in an abandoned hut. Children should not be sexually abused by family.
Arriving at the hotel, we ate together before the graduation ceremony. In order to help us engage, questions on pieces of paper were placed in traditional Rwandan baskets. Pulling out the first question, I stumbled through my very limited Kinyarwanda to ask, “What would you do if you had all the money in the world?” After the guests recovered from their laughter (a Scot speaking Kinyarwanda doesn’t happen every day) their answers ranged from buying a cow to attending University.
Soon after, a mother of one of the children pulled out the question – “What has been your most memorable day?” As my mind scrambled for an answer (recalling my wedding and birth of my children), her answer was given with little hesitation. Through her soft-spoken voice and eyes turned down to the table she said, “The day my daughter was raped.” The weight of that moment seemed to last a long time.
As I struggled to comprehend the tragedy that had befallen the child and her mother, we transitioned to the graduation ceremony. While many of these children were unable to speak immediately following their abuse, now, standing with deep wounds, some shared their story to a filled room. Emotions were raw. I couldn’t help but be moved. Here were children reclaiming their lives that had been stolen, declaring that the abuse would not define their future. As they received their graduation certificate, smiles adorned each face.
There are moments in our lives when the only appropriate thing to do is dance. As the beat of the African drum and palpable joy took hold, the children danced with total abandon. Laughter filled the small hotel floor. For a brief moment, the distance between heaven and earth became paper thin. The veil between God’s kingdom of grace and mercy and love and justice to this broken world was pulled back. We were given a glimpse of the certain hope we have. That injustice and abuse will not have the last word.
This Rwanda team is doing incredible work, but needs partnerships. Join hands with us today to forge a new narrative for the poor of our world.
International Justice Mission is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, restraining perpetrators, and transforming broken public justice systems. Learn more at www.ijm.org.