Imagine your family’s been murdered and your country lies in ruins. Could you rebuild and forgive? These Rwandan women did.
Six years ago, Christian filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson made a gripping, groundbreaking documentary called “As We Forgive,” which explored how the African nation of Rwanda dared to seek reconciliation between the perpetrators and victims of genocide.
Now Hinson has gone back to Rwanda to make a new film, one that provides an update on the country’s progress since that terrible time. This film, “Mama Rwanda,” focuses on a specific aspect of that progress: how women, through their entrepreneurial efforts, are bringing healing and restoration to Rwanda.
“Mama Rwanda” concentrates on two women in particular, Drocella and Christine. Both of them are widowed mothers who suffered great losses during the genocide. (Drocella tells us that her first husband was a killer and her second husband was a victim.) Both Drocella and Christine put everything they have into starting businesses to support their children and help their neighbors and their homeland.
As Christine tells us, “A Rwandan woman has a great responsibility to develop our country.” It is simply the way things are: Because of the genocide, the country’s population is now 70 percent female. Hanson has written, “I wanted to make a documentary that would break down stereotypes of these women, to show the complexity of their lives, and to convey their personal struggles to love their children well while also becoming entrepreneurs.”
In the agricultural cooperative that Drocella started, perpetrators and persecuted work side by side. One worker, Ernestine, says, “You develop patience because you cannot keep that anger in your heart, otherwise you would not be able to live next to them.” The very survival of many of these people requires reconciliation and cooperation. Many of them, in the most practical of ways, are living out their faith in the God of healing and forgiveness.
Women like Drocella and Christine face punishing schedules and economic challenges. They miss their husbands, and they grieve for lost time with their children. But they’re determined to move forward and do what must be done, “with God’s help.” Christine speaks of her desire to “raise people . . . to a higher level,” through her own business savvy and by teaching others to follow her example.
Thanks to these women and to many more like them, “Rwanda boasts one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.” And even more important than that, it is moving beyond the bitter, hateful struggles of its recent past. These women and their work are an inspiration to viewers everywhere.
“Mama Rwanda,” which has won honors at film festivals, is now showing at selected locations around the country, and will soon be available to watch online. Come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary to find out whether “Mama Rwanda” is playing near you, how you can host a screening yourself, and how you can help support the efforts of female entrepreneurs in Rwanda.
But the truth is, encouraging financial help from viewers is far from the point of this film. It’s a good thing to do, of course, but Western help plays a secondary role to what these women have accomplished on their own, and that’s as it should be. As one of the women in the film tells us, popular Western narratives have not been kind to Rwandans: “They think we are people with arms open only to receive aid, and if they ever stopped giving to us, we would all shrivel up and die. . . . That’s not how we are.”
Instead, as another woman says later in the film, “I think it’s extremely important for Africa to get a good story” of its own. And that’s exactly the kind of story that “Mama Rwanda” helps to tell. And one we Christians need to share.