Friday, March 17, 2006

3/16/06 No Peace Without Justice

AVEGA is a nationwide widows support group – and by support, we are to understand all types – physical, emotional, and psychological. Today we visited one of the their headquarters in the city. Don presented a report which he had prepared – it documents the stories of close to a hundred widows of the Genocide. The importance of documentation cannot be underplayed. This trip is an eyeopener because you forget that their construction effort is truly multi-dimensional. It's important not to minimize the work to be done here in terms of a house here, a building there, a storehouse here or even a bag of rice there. It's rebuilding lives, areas, people, the country.

Systematic documentation of the Armenian Genocide didn’t take place until five or six decades after the event – when many of the survivors were getting old and, unfortunately, many were no longer there to witness to the events. What would have happened if a Don Miller were documenting Armenian voices in 1927? Can you imagine if there were hundreds of thousands of voices attesting to the atrocities? So the work of documentation today in Rwanda has to be on equal par with all the other programs that are in place.

AVEGA has a series of villages where the widows manage and self-govern. AVEGA began in 1995 by survivors who decided to get together to support one another. There are 30,000 widows throughout the country. Their motto is “No peace without justice.” AVEGA is an acronym in French which translates to Association of Genocide Widows-Agahozo. In Kinyarwanda, Agahoza means conciliation. The director of the headquarters was a very gracious woman who presented us with gifts – they were hand-sewn baskets. She asked me, “Father, I give you this basket of peace to store love. I know that God loves the widows and orphans. Please remember us during your mass.” I made a promise that the basket would find its way to our altar where she, AVEGA, and all the widows of Genocide would be remembered in our prayers.

A gift shop outside the facility has the purses and baskets made by the widows. Their revenue funds their programs and gives aid to the widows. This was really a much better way of providing aid to them – rather than straight handouts.

3/16/06 - On the second night of our stay we went to a restaurant across the street from the hotel. There was a cool band playing – keyboard, guitar and drum. They were playing some Frank Sinatra, some jazz and then they went into some Blues. It was a fitting backdrop to the day-end. We had seen too much to process and the music and drinks were some type of escape. On our way out, one of our party had her purse snatched. It happened so quickly and certainly brought an ugly reality to play in the midst of the larger tragedy– the petty stuff is always there.

Fast forward to today – we got picked up in the morning by John. It's been a couple of days since the purse snatching, but he just learned of it today. He felt so bad and took this episode as a reflection on him and his country. So as we’re driving away from the hotel, John tells the driver to pull over near a policeman on thestreet. Then in the local language, Kinyarwanda, he chewed out this cop. From the expressions on the faces, it was something like, “How could you let this happen? What kind of police are you that you let this happen?”

Can you imagine – this was two days later! I mention this here, because he epitomizes the feeling of pride we get from so many of the people we’re meeting. They have a love for their country and their people. It would be easy to abandon this place, but they don’t, they want to make it work.
© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006

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