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San Diego Business Helping Rwandans Thrive 20 Years After Genocide

April 3, 2014 1:16 p.m.


Greg Stone, CEO/Founder, All Across Africa

Related Story: San Diego Business Helping Rwandans Thrive 20 Years After Genocide


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Your listing to midday edition on KPBS, I am Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The amazing human story is unfolding in Rwanda, the country where it twenty years ago this month and unbelievably brutal massacre occurred in an estimated 1 million people killed many by their own neighbors. Political rivalry between Hutus and Tutsis genocide the rocked the world. Within organizations working in the area is a San Diego-based organization called all across Africa and my Guest is CEO Greg Stone. Greg, you then with all across Africa for about ten years and you're been in Rwanda that long, what is your take on this country now?

GREG STONE: In the ten years since I've been there they've made incredible progress economically and even as they move on to heal from the effects of the genocide that made great strides but of course type of thing that happened there twenty years ago just is not go away even in a generation.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Give us a thumbnail of how this genocide occurred, there's a lot of tribal violence and this was a particular egregious example.

GREG STONE: The genocide started on April 6, 1994, and shooting down the presence plane and that set off the genocide in not been in the works for quite some time, and for the prior 30 to 40 years the Hutu government had been dehumanizing and demonizing the Tutsis as all the other problems stemming from the fact that Tutsis have taken their application years prior and it really comes down to leadership on the Hutu part and they want to take off their own leadership and claim the Tutsis and to seize and a small scale to our perspectives and large-scale of several hundred to 7000 several thousand people killed and they just continued to escalate and the goal of the genocide it was to kill every Tutsi over 1 million people were killed in the span of hundred days.

ALISON ST. JOHN: What made it so horrific? These were people who had been living together in villages in perfect peace.

GREG STONE: The killers often knew their effect comes and it was face-to-face, it was done with machetes and clubs, and it was very brutal, it was traumatizing, they said that everyone in the country was either participating, was a witness to it or a victim. The country was completely devastated by it.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And since then there have been efforts by the country's government and international agencies to help heal what happened there, tell us what your organization is doing.

GREG STONE: As I said before the government has done a tremendous job in bringing economic reform and progress to the country, the tootsies Tutsis, they don't use the term anymore and in Rwanda you are Rwandan and they don't use the term anymore, it's not legal there and we're loved use the term in the workshops because it would be too difficult to work through the conflict without using the ethnic terms, but it is illegal to use the term Hutu or Tutsi there now. What happened is thousands of these perpetrators released in prison and they do intend to eight years in prison and want to just could not sustain all of these in the business of you are not a ringleader or a planner, you could've killed fifteen people and you would still be released in from prison and the governments are releasing thousands of prisoners back into their communities and often where they did the killing, often right next door to a widow whose family was they wiped out, we saw in 2004 all of the fear and all of the bitterness that was taking place in these villages and we saw an absolute need that something had to happen and there needed to be a dialogue and a process of reconciliation to start

ALISON ST. JOHN: You have a particular way of contributing to this.

GREG STONE: Is a process, it takes months or even years.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Is are you convinced that is possible that ever fully forgive somebody?

GREG STONE: It is, I've seen in many instances and it is an amazing process, it would seem that change lives and futures and people letting go of the bitterness of the past, I am convinced that it works and I am convinced that it works it varying degrees that lets themselves go and commits to the process. It starts on the first day we actually bring the portrait arbitrator and work in the villages and I get certain areas with our Rwandan staff and our staff are genocide survivors, and their Hutu and Tutsi so we go to the village and is weak or weeks or months leading up to the workshops working with victims and perpetrators and convincing them and explaining them but the workshop is and then, when they agree to come to the workshop on day one it is just a time to talk about one of the roots of ethnic conflict in trying to get them to see each other as humans, versus seeing them as the de-eyes and factors in seeing each other's pain and hearing testimonies from each other.

ALISON ST. JOHN: How much of the been talking about this to each other?

GREG STONE: They don't talk at all, it's amazing how this is been shut down, when our teams going to the villages, they will hear stories of people saying they never talked about this, it's something where there is not a lot of access to counseling and in these role areas very few people have actually had an opportunity to talk about it and

ALISON ST. JOHN: House that affected the whole country? It's hard to believe that someone who is murdered someone's family would be living next door, but there were no more violence, but what did due to the villagers?

GREG STONE: Again, what we saw ten years ago, in the sense is that this generation is not going to heal, the kids are the best health and hopefully these ideologies and the retribution, hopefully the anger does not get passed on the kids.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And did these workshops change your mind?

GREG STONE: Now, we so real change in them, what's people work through and I would occasionally attend a workshop what worked for the schedule for me and you'd see on the first day the bitterness and anger within the command perpetrators where they would not sit anywhere near each other and by day to you to softening, and they are bound to each other, whether they want to believe it or not, as long as you're hanging on to that internet is and that anger, you're not moving on in life and all of the shame and guilt that the perpetrators feel, rather they want whether they want to leave it or not there down to each other and we go through tying two people together and show that when you pull one way you people be other way we do things that others put symbolic that they understand.

ALISON ST. JOHN: The lesson that you're learning about forgiveness here, there lessons that we can apply in other places but I do wonder whether forgiveness is a more possible with is so close, when it is your neighbor, and someone has murdered your villages and if you have never seen them it is more difficult to get some of those far away.


GREG STONE: That is a good point and effort it said that when people have gone to this it is amazing that your reconciling and working I've heard the widows say we don't have a choice, it's not like you can just moved to a different village, we don't have a choice, we are forced, not the silly forced to forget that we're forced to face it and deal with it.

ALISON ST. JOHN: One of the programs I understand you are doing is actually a big business, the women are weaving baskets which is one of the traditional art forms.

GREG STONE: One of the things that is not explained about the source of the genocide, we want is a densely populated country and in fact, 1952 there are 2.7 million people and in 1990 there were seven half-million people and this is a 90% agricultural sector so that a small piece of land that your trying to Eagle Farm and there's very little land, very little access to jobs and employment and so, another part of the genocide once the Tutsis were killed you could take their land and their cows and any of their property and so, it was another factor that helped perpetuate the genocide, or in a country that now has ten or more million people now and it's densely populated being in agricultural country that is so densely pocketed it is not really an option to continue to build out farming so what we have done is provided them market for their baskets and we now provide designers in and folks will come out and project colors for what we want in our kitchens and in the US, we now employ women's year rounds to make baskets we sell them in the US and the economic opportunities have changed dramatically.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I'm prompted to ask you whether you find working with women is some ways is it easier to work on these feelings?

GREG STONE: A lot of the perpetrators were men in the genocide and the been to many workshops where you see the men being for forgiveness come there just racked by guilt and shame and they're just pleading to be released from the terrible feelings that they feel in their life at am not sure that they are not amount emotionally attached, the baskets of been something that of been handed down from generation to generation from mother to daughter and it's a Natural Pl., Wanda has been known to the most exquisite baskets and it was an easy process versus we brought them back and as we have with the markets here this allowed us to have year-round market for them and sustainable markets, he represents education and medicine and food on the table and most everyone was malnourished when we first started working with them, all of their children are in school, was very exciting to see how a basket can change so much in their lives.

ALISON ST. JOHN: This is a twenty year anniversary, I believe Monday is the actual anniversary?

GREG STONE: Yes, April 6 was the anniversary of the day that the plane was shot down and the genocide started the night of the net sixth when the president's plane was shot down.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And it went on 100 days. Are they observing this every year? Do they. For years?

GREG STONE: It is every year, in April it is the month of mourning, the country almost takes a timeout from all of their impressive economic gains and everything in the just mourned their losses and received the widows traumatized and resend teams out in the field to sit with them in the hotels and everyone is running genocide in the whole country goes into a time of mourning in particular starting on Sunday it's the week of one might morning, it starts in the sixth and runs through Saturday and the whole country the it will just a disputed week for the entire month.

ALISON ST. JOHN: The code for the healing process to feel like the signs of progress that you're seeing are stable? I have read different assessments of the sum people say it's amazing the forgiveness that goes on and others say that this is just going to explode again, do you think there's any political situation that could spark that?

GREG STONE: I don't think it's ready to explode again but I think that we can underestimate the amount of pain and once caused by the genocide, the people who have survived. Almost everyone that was to tea was killed and first understand we will never understand the trauma and the pain or suffering and I don't make any judgment when I see in here the stories that go on in April and is their way of mourning that is beyond our coverage in.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And yet you see hope?

GREG STONE: I definitely see hope.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Thank you so much, this is Greg Stone talking about his experiences in Rwanda, thank you so much.