Denise Uwimana is a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and author of From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness. The founder of Íriba Shalom International, she has made her life’s mission to promote healing and reconciliation. Íriba Shalom International (Iriba = wellspring), a non-profit and charitable organization of peace and well-being is a holistic ministry offering healing that rebuilds human dignity and supports the work of unity and reconciliation after the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Denise originally spoke on her experiences with Global Minnesota during an event in May 2019 and provides an update on her work and experiences since then.
Spreading Reconciliation Around the World
After my interview with Global Minnesota in May 2019, I had the opportunity to speak to audiences at churches, conferences, radio, TV, schools, and colleges in the USA, UK, Germany, and in Rwanda. One of my favorite events in the USA was at a high school assembly in Jersey City, NJ organized by “Breaking the Cycle.” They work to promote nonviolent conflict resolution and the power of forgiveness with an emphasis on Black students. The audience consisted of nearly 1,000 students dealing with some very tough challenges.
A few months later, I had the honor of being interviewed by Stephany Hoang in front of nearly 4,000 church leaders as part of the Catalysts Conference. Stephany Hoang did an interview with me in this article, “I Thought God Loved Only the Hutu.”
In November of 2019, I travelled back to Rwanda. Iriba Shalom International e.V. collaborates with two local organizations in Rwanda supporting over 1,200 people. Shalom Ministries is located in Kigali and Iriba Shalom Rwanda is located in the South of Rwanda in the Nyamasheke District. Each visit to Rwanda helps me to evaluate the work we are doing in collaboration with the Rwandan partners, to work on my own inner healing process, and to support others.
At the wellspring of inner beauty
It is not in vain or a waste of time when anyone invests his/her precious time to open the ear and listen to another person whose life comes nearly to an end. I devoted my life to supporting widows whose lives fell into hopelessness. Theophile is one of the widows who survived the genocide against the Tutsi. She has 5 children. She wrote a testament of her near-death experiences. Since she started to attend my sessions of individual and group trauma counselling and prayer in 2005, a new wellspring of hope rose up again in her life. “I do not want to die anymore,” said Theophile.
“My soul was healed of its wounds through love. Despite my illness I feel healthy, I have new dignity and hope. In this community, I have discovered that I am a valuable person. I want to pass this love on to other people. Just as I sew torn pieces of a fabric together into a beautiful festive dress, I want to give torn hearts the gift of new, inner beauty.” – A talented seamstress, Theophile went to an evening Bible School for four years and wanted to give to people not only external beauty but also inner beauty.
(Theophile and Denise at the Bible School graduation ceremony Nov, 2019. Denise wears a beautiful dress made by Theophile.)
Silver Winner 2020 at the 32nd Annual IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award
In May 2020, in the category of biography, my book From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness was a Silver Winner 2020 at the 32nd Annual IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award.
“…I hope my account will help ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, anywhere on earth. But I also write because genocide is not the end of the story – not for me and not for my beloved country…” Denise Uwimana
Empowering Rwanda’s next generation through the wellspring of education
In Rwandan culture, the rule is: “Raise your neighbor’s child like your own.”
In Rwanda like other countries, school life had come to a standstill due to the pandemic. This is a major problem especially in poor families where parents can neither read nor write. Schoolchildren have had a tough time during the pandemic and lockdown. In collaboration with the two partners of Iriba Shalom International, we could support around 400 children with school materials such as books, pens, radios, and a television (for digital lessons on Rwandan television). These materials assisted them to be able to learn through the pandemic, so that their future prospects are not as negatively affected.
(Children of Iriba Shalom Rwanda in the community of Mukoma and Shangi)
I was also privileged during the lockdown to visit with 16 schoolchildren from different family backgrounds at the Art Museum in Kanombe. All students attended a museum for the first time. The main purpose was to encourage them to keep the goal of education and future prospects in mind.
(Denise, the first from right side)
“The visit had a positive effect on my education because I needed to know more about the history of my country. I will put a lot of energy into my education, so that I can be successful and give back what I have received. I learned a lot about unity, which helps me to get on better with my siblings at home and in the class at school.”
(Drucella, 11 years old.)
“I thank our Rwandan government because all children have an equal opportunity to attend school without discrimination “, Prince, 18 years old.
Some children experienced a hard childhood in families which did not allow them to attend school. We like to give a new chance of perspective to those valuable children and young people so that they can discover their talents, develop them, and use their talent for good purpose. Some of them wish to improve their skills by receiving additional private tuition.
“I dream to be a Rwandan artist and do not wish to waste my time again in the street anymore”, said Fiston.
“Bohoka” means “Be Free.” The picture of his paint describes a young survivor of the genocide against the Tutsi coming out from the bushes, a hiding place while he lost his parents and siblings.
A wellspring of new dignity, new hope
My dear widows shall not die in the grief. They deserve to live.
Despite the trauma of the genocide and its daily effects, widow’s survivors in the community of Iriba Shalom Rwanda have become a source of encouragement among themselves and for others. They live in the same village where they lived before, during, and after the genocide. Not all disabilities are visible. Working in a community-based approach helps them to work on the process of healing their inner wounds, praying together, singing, dancing, and working together to fight against poverty. Members support each other in their local communities, build unity and love, forgive each other, and serve as peacemakers in the neighborhood.
Julienne, a widow and survivor of the genocide said, “Iriba Shalom Rwanda built my house. My neighbors benefit from the water. When my former enemy, a former Hutu who killed my sons and my husband sends his children to ask for water from my tank, I overcome the evil, I do good to him, I give them water. This is what God asks us to do. We forgave our enemies and we are still working on the process of forgiveness.”
“Be the light in the darkness” – The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 2021
Recently, my testimony was selected by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust as an inspiring story of courage, forgiveness, and reconciliation to help students and others to use as a learning resource. https://www.hmd.org.uk/resource/denise-uwimana-hmd-2021/www.Hmd.org.uk/lifestories/Denise Uwimana
Each wise human being shall leave a legacy of love instead of hate to her/his child for a better and a safer life in the family, society, and the world.
For more information visit: www.iriba-shalom-international.org.
Denise will be participating in an event at Hope Church on August 2 at 6:30pm.
7910 15th St. N.
Oakdale, MN 55128