Faustin had lived in Rulindo his whole life. This vibrant and picturesque Rwandan district in the northern part of the country is home to some excellent tea and famous for the production of a special type of vegetable called passion fruit squash. It was 10 October 2023.
Faustin was a prominent member of the community. In the early ‘90s, he started being more involved in local politics, a move that brought him closer to the ideology that would ultimately lead to the horrendous Genocide Against the Tutsi in 1994. To go a step further, Faustin joined the ruling political party, and started spreading hatred towards his Tutsi neighbors. In time, he became one of the key figures in mobilization and information gathering efforts.
“Just before 1994, I had the power to do whatever I wanted during mobilization. In fact, I could torture the so called “ibyitso” (accomplices or collaborators in Kinyarwanda) of Rwandan Patriotic Front Army (RPA) rebel movement. As Tutsis, they were always considered as accomplices of RPF, and that was justification enough for us to target them,” he recalls.
At the start of the genocide in April 1994, Faustin wasted no time rallying the Hutu community to engage in the killings of Tutsis. He personally orchestrated numerous attacks, including one that claimed the lives of family members of his neighbor Alphonsine.
After the genocide, Faustin Kazimbaya faced justice. He was found guilty of genocide-related crimes and sentenced to 19 years in prison. Upon release, he returned to his native Rulindo hoping to rebuild his life. His past weighed heavily on him, and reintegration was almost impossible. Wherever he looked, he was reminded of his crimes.
He decided to focus on agriculture in his village, joining a larger group of farmers working together in a cooperative. He soon became one of the leading voices in the group. It wasn’t long before he found himself working alongside Alphonsine, another prominent leader in the village. They knew each other well, and they both vividly remembered Faustin’s crimes. With every look and every word, hatred escalated. The history of pain and suffering made it impossible for them to even speak to each other, and the village agricultural initiative started to suffer because of this. Nobody saw a way out: the hatred was huge and obvious, and the wounds so sensitive that it seemed impossible to even attempt to discuss the past. Years were flying by, with trauma locked in an impasse.
A ray of hope shone through when, in early 2023, a USAID-funded project called “Dufatanye Urumuri” came to the village where Alphonsine and Faustin lived. Urumuri, meaning “light” in Kinyarwanda, offered group therapy sessions to support Rwandans across the country in using dialogue and professional help to overcome trauma and heal the wounds from the genocide.
Alphonsine felt that she needed help if she was ever to move on from her traumatic past. She immediately joined the group and started attending the therapy sessions. Faustin hesitated. For many reasons, it took a while for him to join the Urumuri therapy group. Once he joined, he found himself in the same group with Alphonsine.
Working through trauma is a painful process. At first, Faustin struggled to express the depths of his remorse and guilt. However, as therapy sessions continued, his heart began to open. He gradually started sharing the gruesome details of his actions during the genocide.
The therapy group became a safe space, where participants would talk through fears and shame together. Encouraged by others who sought forgiveness, one day Faustin finally mustered the courage to speak his truth, and admitted to being one of the killers of Alphonsine’s family members. In response, Alphonsine made a simple request: she wanted to know where the bodies of her loved ones were.
Faustin agreed and took Alphonsine to the site where the remains of her family members were left years ago. With the help of family and friends, Alphonsine’s family members’ remains were given a dignified burial at the local genocide memorial site. This act of closure brought solace to Alphonsine. She was able to leave the traumatic past behind her, and make what many would call an impossible choice: to forgive.
“I forgave him because I needed peace of mind,” explains Alphonsine. “Before forgiving Faustin, I lived in the past, haunted by memories of the genocide. This was affecting me in so many ways, not just mentally, it was truly hindering my life. For instance, I almost avoided joining the agriculture group we were both elected to lead. When Faustin showed me where my family members were buried, I found relief. Now, I sleep well, walk freely, and let my children play with anyone, including Faustin’s family.”
The reconciliation of Alphonsine and Faustin marked a turning point in the community. Moving slowly away from the legacy of hatred and fear, they could sit together, have a conversation, work together, and even offer support to each other. After years of feeling isolated, Faustin was able to walk in his village free of the weight of his past crimes.
Today, both Alphonsine and Faustine are active members of the Urumuri therapy group, which has become popular in their village. Their story of reconciliation has inspired many others to join the group and work through their trauma. Together, they promote social cohesion, unity, and resilience, aiming to make these values a reality for everyone in their community.
In Rwanda, USAID supports several interventions aimed at reconciliation and trauma healing. To learn more about the programs, head over to our Democracy and Governance page. To read more inspiring stories about the impact of our work, please see the Stories section.