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Colour of darkness.

Courage in Rwanda

Scottish nurse Lesley Bilinda had been working in Rwanda with the British charity Tear Fund for five years when the genocide broke out in April 1994. She escaped death because she was on holiday in Kenya; her husband, a Rwandan pastor and school-teacher, did not.

In all, over a million people were killed, in what has been portrayed as a tribal attack by Hutus on Tutsis. Bilinda maintains it was more complicated than that: many Hutus who did not support the ruling party were also killed.

It was six months before she could return to the country to find out what had happened to her husband, Charles, and their friends. `I felt as if I had nothing to live for,' she now says. As well as losing people she loved, she had also lost her job, her home and all her belongings.

Back in Rwanda and in the Tanzanian refugee camps she encountered indescribable horrors--and amazing examples of courage and forgiveness. She recounts them in her book. The colour of darkness published in April.

Among the horrors were the discovery that Charles's infant nephew had been bludgeoned to death on his mother's back, that her dog had survived by eating bodies left lying on the hillside, that her vegetable garden had become a mass grave. Charles's brother-in-law had lost all but three of his 200-strong extended family.

She also heard how Charles's sister and her husband had escaped, with their eight children, thanks to the help of Hutu friends. She met a family who had hidden for weeks in a walk-in cupboard in the kitchen of some foreign friends. At first they lived on chocolate they found in the cupboard and then an avocado tree in the garden fell down in a storm. After that mushrooms started to grow every night outside the door, like manna in the wilderness.

Another woman had lost her husband, betrayed by a close friend, and about 40 of her extended family. Her house had been destroyed and all her property had been looted. `She showed not a trace of a desire for revenge, everything about her was radiant and spoke of peace. She was a Christian. She had wrestled with it all and realized that the only real and lasting option was to forgive.'

The `courage, faith, generosity and compassion' of her Rwandan friends has played a major role in her own healing, as well as the support of her family and friends in Scotland. So has the acceptance that while God did not answer her prayers for her husband, he was with her in her suffering, `breaking his heart like mine'.

She has founded the Charles Bilinda Memorial Trust in memory of her husband, to fund the training of Rwandans who can help their country get back on its feet after losing so many of its educated people.

She was back in Tanzania this year and was encouraged by the `more healthy and positive' atmosphere she felt in the refugee camps. People are planting crops, building mud houses to replace their plasticsheeting huts, starting businesses. But most are still too afraid to go home.

The trauma that the people of Rwanda have experienced is unthinkable. Lesley Bilinda is most concerned about the children. A survey has found that 80 per cent of the children in Rwanda have witnessed a murder.

On her recent visit, Bilinda found the six-year-old daughter of her closest colleague at the hospital, a social worker, who had been macheted to death. The child had been seriously injured in the attack. Later her father had also been killed.

`She hardly smiled,' she says. `She had been so much loved by her mother, she was always well-dressed, clean, bright and cheery. OK, she was being looked after. But she had no shoes on her feet, she was grubby, her dress was torn. I wept for that child with nobody to love her as her mother had done, nobody to really put her first. And she's one of hundreds of thousands.

`The needs are just colossal, the hurts are so deep. There's a lot that can be done in terms of counselling and practical care. But I believe that the real healing has to come from within and can really only come from the power of God. You're not going to get to the root of the pain unless you have a spiritual experience as well.'

She should know.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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