The Rwanda Healing Project (2004 – 2014)



In 1994, during a period of only 100 days from April 6 through mid-July, approximately one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu sympathizers were killed in Rwanda. Carried out mostly by two extremist Hutu militia groups, the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, this genocide is the largest organized killing of human beings in the shortest period of time in modern history. Its brutality and destruction left its marks all over this small and verdant country. Everyone who survived carries the terror and trauma of genocide in his/her daily life.


In 2004 at an international conference in Barcelona, Lily Yeh, Founding director of Barefoot Artists, Inc., met Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande, Regional Coordinator of Rwanda Red Cross in Gisenyi. Musana talked about the suffering of his people caused by the Genocide; Yeh was deeply moved. She decided to visit Musana in Gisenyi to understand better people’s situation in Rwanda. Musana showed her two sites, a mass grave, which was a crusty structure containing the remains of genocide victims in Rugerero, and a nearby survivors’ village. He told Yeh that both sites urgently needed help.


This need shaped the Rwanda Healing Project, which contains two simultaneous and complimentary programs: 1) the construction of the Rugerero Genocide Memorial and, 2) the transformation of the Rugerero Survivors’ Village. The Genocide Memorial program looks at the past: violence, destruction, and death; the Survivors’ Village program deals with now and the future: development, new possibilities, and hope.

Barefoot Artists team uses art as its main vehicle in its transformative work. Thus, in this multi-year, multi-dimensional Rwanda Healing Project, we expand the boundaries of art into life in healing and empowering individuals, families and community. The process engaged 100 mostly female-headed families with several hundred children from the Survivors’ Village, dozens of workers and volunteers from the nearby city of Gisenyi, professionals from Kigali, as well as dozens of volunteers from the United States.

In the end, there are as many reasons for the genocide as there are people on earth. For the most uncomfortable fact of all is that the causes that lead to genocide, which is driven by selfishness, greed, and hatred, reside in each one of us. There is no exception. To quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “our enemies are not other men, they are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination, which lie within the heart of man.” Modern Rwanda has an urgent need to remember and ensure that genocide never returns. This need must be in balance with the other equally urgent need, to heal and forgive.

We express our deep gratitude to Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande, former Regional Director of Rwanda Red Cross and Barefoot Artists Rwanda program coordinator for the past decade. His wisdom, skills, and network made our work successful and sustainable in Rwanda.

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