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Planting the Tree of Peace among Enemies
By Anna Crumley-Effinger

AVP wasn’t new to me. I had heard enough of it from my father. My father, being a busy pastor and a volunteer with AVP, always tried to show love and I had never seen him violent. I admired him but I never thought I would be like him. I was violent, and always underestimated what my father did. I always thought if you are too good people will call you a coward.

Seconds after completing the first workshop, I was on board a vehicle headed back home. Suddenly I thought about myself, my family, my society and my country. I seemed to sense violence everywhere; AVP had opened my heart. The poverty in Goma was very visible. Yet all this was as a result of war which has now claimed five million lives. Tin houses and poorly built houses could be seen. The roads were very poor either due to neglect or vandalism. I thought about the ill-clothed children, the policemen harassing an alleged criminal and the power in me seemed to lose sway.

Then I thought about Rwanda. I started to see the real picture. More harm than good. One million had died within three months; many displaced and as a result dead in the bushes of Congo (a foreign country). Then I thought of AVP. Something reminded me of a good future, promised me light beyond a dark tunnel; and, that was the transforming power.

There is good everywhere in both the gentle and the rude. Good is more than evil and peace will prevail over violence. Today I feel different and a greater pacifist than I was. So much thanks to AVP.
A Young Rwandan

The Historical Context:
Goma, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Gisenyi, Rwanda are border towns on the northern edge of Lake Kivu. After years of civil war, population displacement, refugees from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, armies and militias – some backed by the two governments and others by local leaders — and fighting; they have a difficult, inter-connected history. The area has many tribes and language groups; the Hunde, Tembo, Nunde and Nyanga are thought to be the indigenous tribes. Additionally there are groups that speak Kinyarwanda, the language of the Rwandan population. The addition of Tutsi and Hutu expatriates from Rwanda has added great tension in earlier periods of Rwandan exile and more recently with refugee population of almost two million people following the 1994 genocide.

During the Belgium time there were not many people in what is now the Masisi area, about 50 kilometers from Goma. The Hunde people moved into this area. In the 20th century as the crowding in Rwanda increased, Kinyarwandan speaking groups started moving into the Masisi area which has been the center of much of the conflict in North Kivu. After awhile there were more people of Rwandan descent than of the earlier settling Hunde people. The Hunde began to worry that there could be an uprising by the majority population so they began a campaign against the Kinyarwandan speaking peoples. Due to the violence against them, many of the Rwandan population began returning to Rwanda. During the early part of the reign of Sese Seko Mobutu, 1971-1997, the violence by the Hunde was stopped by government military force. The people of the towns began living together. The influx of vast numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees in July 1994 exasperated tensions in the province. A number of legislators from the eastern Congo got a law passed that said that people who were not in the DRC (at that time Zaire) before 1886 were not citizens of the State. The effect was the stripping of nationality from most of the Kinyarwandan speaking population.

This led a Kinyarwandan speaking group, the Bamyamulenge from South Kivu, to revolt in 1996. With the help of Rwandan and Ugandan armies, Mobutu was ousted and Laurent-Désiré Kabila became president of the DRC. Kabila later became at odds with his Rwandan and Ugandan backers and ousted them from the Congolese government and army. This led to the second Congo War with Rwandan, Ugandan, and local Congolese militia fighting the Congolese army and militias supported by Zimbabwe, Angola, and Chad. Over four million people are estimated to have died in these wars which lasted officially until 2003; but the many militias have continued to exist and to destabilize the region. These militias support themselves by looting the considerable resources of the eastern Congo. Essentially, North Kivu province has not seen a functional government since the early 1990’s.

The goal of the workshops was to bring together people from these two antagonistic countries in cross-border peacemaking. The Gisenyi/Goma workshops served eighty people in the bordering towns between the DRC and Rwanda. Each workshop had around twenty participants, equally spilt on gender lines and border lines. First, two basic workshops took place in Goma (10-12 July and 13-15 July) followed by an advanced workshop (17-19 July) in Gisenyi. Later two basics (25-27 July and 3-5 August) took place in Gisenyi followed by an advanced (8-10 August) in Goma.

Two Rwandans and two Congolese were workshop facilitators for all of the basic workshops with separate interpreters. Advanced workshops diverged from the model because the necessary qualifications of experienced advanced facilitators prevented having Congolese facilitators.

The participants were in being a diverse group of students, pastors, a doctor, and program administrators, including someone who works with former military youth. Therefore, in addition to bringing two communities together, the program also served as bridge builder between different parts of society.

The Challenge of Language:
Language is a challenge and continues to be of the utmost importance because access to language is also a symbol of status and privilege. In Rwanda, Kinyarwanda is the local language; most Rwandans do not know Swahili. In North Kivu, while each tribe speaks its own local language, Swahili is the language of general communication. Only Congolese of Rwandan background are able to speak Kinyarwandan. While French is the European language common to both countries, only the well-educated speak it fluently. Therefore it was essential to have an interpreter and to write everything in both Swahili and Kinyarwandan.

The Results:
We are neighbors, in neighboring countries, and I was not comfortable mixing up with them because I used to feel that we are different from each other. After the first workshop I realized we are all the same people— they are just like me. We are all the same even though we come from different tribes, regions or countries. Personally I feel now I have to make a decision of how we can both all live together in peace whereby I can avoid anything that will hurt the Congolese and they can avoid anything that will hurt the Rwandan so that we can all live in peace. The issue of looking at somebody and saying that we are not the same is no longer there. Sometimes in life you go through difficulties and you feel that all the problems are overwhelming and you are not free, but due to the training, I feel that my burdens have been lifted and I feel free.
Rwandan participant

Looking back at the situation that happened between Rwandese and Congolese, they were living in a complete division. But due to the training we have received we can now live together as brothers and sisters. And now we have Congolese coming from Congo to Rwanda, and other groups from Rwanda going to Congo.
Congolese participant

What do you remember most about AVP?
The fact of bringing Congolese and Rwandese together. As you can see the Rwandese and Congolese do not get along with each other. And this workshop they have taught us how to be patient with each other, how to carry each others’ burden and how to live with each other, forgiving each other because we are all the same.
Congolese participant

Bringing together the Congolese of Goma and the Rwandans of Gisenyi very much affected each participant’s perception of the other group. Beforehand they described the other as enemies, as groups that didn’t like each other. They came away from the workshops saying that they had come to realize that they were all the same, that they could be patient with each other and understand each other. It was particularly telling that in many of the interviews participants responded to the very first question, “What do you remember most about your AVP workshop?” by citing the bringing together of Congolese and Rwandans. This was no longer the case with people who continued on to the advanced workshop. By the advanced training less was said about the two groups and participants had to be specifically asked about the make up of the group to respond about the relationship between the Congolese and the Rwandans.

Recommendations for the future:
I didn’t have any bad impressions because before the war Rwanda was a good friend to the Congo. Rwandans were living in Congo and we were living as brothers and sisters. Only one thing brought a problem, and it was due to the leadership of our country, the politicians. We the common people do not have a problem. - Congolese participant

AVP Gisenyi/Goma was the beginning of an important initiative; but it was only the beginning. For these communities to become closer together a wider and more encompassing program has to take place. Many participants suggested that politicians need AVP, but also the power of citizens to come together and build friendships between communities will most certainly aid in the relations between Goma/Gisenyi. Many participants talked about sharing the AVP lessons with family, neighbours, and church groups. It is important that there are more people adequately trained. People also had visions of AVP moving from the cities into the villages where they think more conflict happens.

Future plans:
David Bucura, from Rwanda, plans to organize AVP workshops with Rwandan and North Kivu leadership. AGLI’s workcamp in Rwanda this summer will begin the construction of a peace center in Gisenyi near the border between Congo and Rwanda.

End quote:
As we passed around the room, person after person responded that they wanted to share what they had learned in AVP with their neighbors, their children, their husband or wife. They wanted to learn more and share with as many people as possible these concepts that helped them to make something of the tribalism around them that causes death and pain— the nurse at the hospital that does violence to her patient with inattention or assumption of condition, the rumors about family members that placed them in prison for years in poor conditions with only knowing people in high places to get them out, relations with house workers or kids who are adopted and then abused, for the pastor helping to solve conflict between members of the church, understanding how we cause violence to each other, how violence is rooted in our relationships, our cultures, our communities, our families.

The energy in the room surged, like the long florescent lights that dim and get brighter as the electrical current fades in and out. This group, that had been together for a relatively inconsequential amount of time, was at its peak. All the lessons and practice of having to be called upon and acknowledge your preceding speaker was suspended. In listening was suspended as arms and voices jumped into the air. They were responding to the question of what groups are oppressed, voices quickly – prisoners, the poor, unemployed, orphans – people were speaking out of their own lives. It was the exercise entitled “Speak Out”; a chance to tell your story. You have the floor for those minutes. You are the one, with a support person joining you on either side, to talk through your experience. Much had already transformed in the room, beyond the symbolic moving of table with chairs, to the tables at the end of the room and the chairs in a large circle. Soon stories and experiences were filling each of those chairs. Some experiences that were just beginning to heal helped along by the lessons of AVP. But it was not the experiences and the stories that were transforming by the miraculous magical power of AVP; it was the hearts and minds of people opening themselves up to the transformation. The changes were not inconsequential. In an interview, a young man in his twenties explained to me that after the last day of AVP he had gone to someone who had wronged him and forgiven. He was working to teach his father the lessons of AVP that had enabled him to do that, hoping his father might also someday forgive. Another young woman spoke about her families’ home being hit by a bomb, holding up her finger and covering her eye, she explained her mother’s loss. The family lived in town and she had gone to forgive them for that wrong.

Anna Crumley-Effinger