Godelieve Mukasarasi, Rwanda native and TCU’s 10th Global Innovator, uses dance and shared experience to help women recover from trauma.
As Christmas approached in 1994, Rwanda was reeling. The frenetic violence that erupted on April 6 had ended in July, but the East African nation had barely begun to recover.
Militias of Hutus, the country’s largest ethnic group, killed nearly 1 million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Their bodies filled mass graves near stadiums, churches, schools. Rwanda’s infrastructure was in shambles, and thousands of people fled the country.
Because so many men died in the genocide, Rwanda’s population became 70 percent female. But many of those women were recovering from unspeakable brutality. The Interahamwe — paramilitary Hutu killing squads — used rape to humiliate and torture up to 500,000 Tutsi women, including grandmothers and girls as young as 10.
Some of the crimes were committed by neighbors. Many attacks were carried out in public. The sexual violence was meant to break the human spirit. When the women begged to be killed, militia men refused. “We’re going to leave you alive so you will die of sadness,” the men often told the women they attacked.
Godelieve Mukasarasi, a social worker in the Rwandan village of Taba, watched women go about their work with empty eyes and expressionless faces. After the genocide, many learned they had contracted HIV. Some were pregnant as a result of rape. All the women seemed shut down emotionally, becoming numb as a coping strategy.
Mukasarasi is Hutu, but she married a Tutsi man. A devout Catholic, she said she made a deal with God when the genocide began: If my children survive, I will focus on a charitable work. As she surveyed the listless women walking down the same streets where they were violated, she wondered what to do for them.Read More