“Washing my heart …”

Throughout the program it was always my impression that ex-prisoners were the ones who were working much harder in the field. The photo depicts a moment in which Matabaro volunteered to carry heavy crops for Louise.

Louise and Matabaro working

During a dry season in Rwanda, an average temperature at noon reaches over 30 Celsius every day. The dyads were asked to work together for two hours under direct sunlight. It could be very exhausting. However I noticed in sessions after sessions that ex-prisoners were working with smiles on their faces.

louise and Matabaro at work

I discovered that all ex-prisoners truly appreciated the mere opportunity to atone previous “evil” deeds they have committed in front of the very survivors they have caused harm. Most of the ex-prisoners reported that working for survivors was like cleansing their hearts. All ex-prisoners reported that they feel like their hearts were being washed.

Hearing their words, I discovered that ex-prisoners had been carrying their guilt, sense of sin, shame, torment by conscience, and self-hatred throughout their lives since the 1994. All of them shared with me that it had been enormously painful and ‘acidic’ for them to have had to carry their senses of sin, guilt and shame. The ABPRA provided them with a long desired opportunity to atone for their previous deeds and ‘wash’ their heart.

Saveri washing up after work

Ex-prisoners reported that it was only when they were providing services for survivors that they could feel their hearts were being cleansed. This observation and realization helped me understand why it was always the case that ex-prisoners were so motivated and smiled throughout their work, while survivors showed their exhausted faces from the heat and exhaustion.