Moans and screams rent the air. Smoke rose from burning houses like foreboding death enshrouding the once small and friendly village set ablaze by enemies who had once been friends. This tragic period in African history is called the Rwandan Genocide. It lasted from April 6, 1994 to mid-July of the same year. Tragically during that period, 500,000 innocent people were killed. This genocide was a result of ethnic tension building up over a period of years. It resulted in one African tribe, the Hutus, killing another tribe, the Tutsis, and any of their own peace-loving tribe because the Hutus believed foolish rhetoric that the Tutsis meant to enslave them.

Why is this news today if it happened in 1994? Today, 40,000 out of the 120,000 murderers are being rapidly and readily released into the hometowns of their victims to build houses for survivors and recompense their evil deeds. The convicts hold remorse while survivors are a bit anxious. Will they manage to live together peacefully?

As one walks along the former blood-stained trail, they see not killing but peace. Hands that once swung swords in violence now carry building materials and purchased roofing. Survivors whose relatives have been killed are not glowering in anger but forgiving those who had trespassed against them.

However, a few survivors are still cautious. “Will they kill us all?” Murderers are scared wondering if the survivors will take revenge. Why are these criminals being released in the first place? The president of Rwanda decided that cooping men up behind bars was not going to really change their characters, so he sent them to a reconciliation camp to be “reeducated.” When a certain time period expired, 40,000 perpetrators were released under supervision into society. What compelled the Rwandan president to release these convicts?

Gacaca is a Rwandan form of government that is traditionally held under special wild fig trees called umuvumu trees on a grassy plain. Gacaca helps survivors and murderers resolve strife and remorse peacefully, creating a safe community. It works by truth-telling and confession. The penalty for the guilty is either more jail time or community service. Strangely, the people who have killed the families of so many people are now working together with the bereaved and stricken survivors.

Perhaps the healing of this community can be best characterized by an ancient art practiced by the Rwandans. Once the umuvumu trees are fully matured, they are cut and the bark peeled away. Naturally, the tree grows small red threads over the patch where the bark was removed. The red threads, called “bark cloth,” are then taken and woven together to make material and other beautiful accessories. Beauty can come from wounds. The Rwandan people’s disfiguring scars can become reminders of healing reconciliation and not of shame--emblems of love, not of hate. A people once divided are joining together to rebuild their lives in peace. What can society learn from these amazingly resilient people? Forgiveness is the only way to properly heal this great gash that divided the Rwandan people.

Even though it is hard to forgive, the Rwandans manage to live together in peace. If the Rwandans, who have lost so much, can live together peacefully, than society can learn to live in peace no matter how severe the wound. Society must learn to live in peace and not in anger. Do not let individual conflicts and small every-day matters cause enmity and division. Choose forgiveness and reconciliation over hatred and revenge. The small issues that confront an average American’s every-day life are nothing compared to the wounds of the Rwandans, who, despite the slaughter of their near kinfolk, live in peace and harmony once again. May our lives be threaded together in peace and unity.