A community meeting in Rwanda. Photo: Geoff Crawford
Philbert Kalisa grew up in exile in Burundi before training as a church leader. Since the time of the genocide, when many people were killed in a conflict between two tribes, the Hutu and Tutsi, he had a vision of bringing reconciliation in his parents’ country – Rwanda.
However, after many years of training, hoping, praying and waiting for an opportunity to hold peace-building workshops in Rwanda, it seemed that the very first one was going to fail.
At the first gathering of 60 church leaders, the tensions caused by trying to discuss experiences of the conflict, genocide and its aftermath were so great that twelve police officers had to stand guard over the group for the whole day.
Some of the leaders were widowers because of the conflict. Many of the leaders were angry and started calling one another ‘machete’ (a type of large knife used to kill and maim people during the genocide). During the break, the Hutu and Tutsi went to separate places and did not speak to one another.
Philbert remembers what happened next:
‘I was wondering what to do and found myself standing near one Hutu. I said to him: “What do you think? Should we stop?”
‘He said he could understand Tutsi anger because the Hutu killed them, but he said: “We were not all like that. I had Tutsi refugees staying in my own house, and hid them from my children.”
‘One of the Tutsi who had stayed with him was there. He was a pastor.
‘I asked the two of them to share the story with everyone. When they told the story, the Tutsi said: “I am alive because of this man”. The two men embraced, and the tension in the room was overcome.
‘The Hutu and Tutsi both started to understand that there were people in each group who do good things, and that not everyone is bad. It became a blessing, and we started singing and praising God.
‘We talked about forgiveness and reconciliation. The two men became pioneers and I took them with me when I did training with other groups.’
Philbert and his team deliver peace-building workshops, and then ask communities to identify people who will set up a unity group and keep the conversations going.
Rev Philbert Kalisa was interviewed by Katie Harrison, Tearfund’s Head of Media.
PO Box 6396
Philbert discovered that one way of overcoming stigma resulting from conflict between groups is to tell personal stories that overcome generalisations and prejudice.