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Forgive and Forget - Rwandan Genocide

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Alan Braidwood Alan Braidwood | 15:42 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010

Philip Sime, producer of Forgive and Forget writes about the third episode in the second series:

Can complete forgiveness ever actually be achieved or do we always harbour resentment of some form?

The horrific genocide carried out in Rwanda in 1994 caused the death of an estimated 1 million people but do you think that those responsible for such carnage should ever be forgiven?

This week on Forgive and Forget, Lorraine Kelly talks to Lesley Bilinda whose husband; a Rwandan Tutsi was caught up in the genocide and killed. Understandably Leslie has struggled to find forgiveness for the people responsible for her husband's murder.

Lesley Bilinda is featured in epsiode three of Forgive and Forget, with Lorraine Kelly.

Lesley grew up in the town of Montrose and was educated at Aberdeen University; Lesley said that "The time I spent at university really opened my eyes to what was going on in the world as I met so many people from different backgrounds and cultures". From a relatively young age, Lesley was very aware of the poverty and injustices that were going on in the world and she felt compelled to do something about it so in 1989 and working along side the Tear Fund and the Anglican Church, Lesley was assigned to work in a local Rwandan hospital where she headed up a community health project.

During her time in the country, Lesley met her husband Charles a Rwandan Tutsi, also a pastor and English teacher but around one year into their marriage, Lesley heard rumours that Charles was having an affair which completely devastated her. After confronting him and despite trying to work out their differences, they grew further apart. Lesley found it extremely difficult as she was working and living in a foreign country where there were not many English speaking people that she could confide in so she decided to go on holiday to Kenya with her sister where she would take time out to consider her future with Charles.

Lesley had only been on holiday a short while when she heard the shocking news that genocide had broken out in Rwanda and as much as she feared for Charles's life, she couldn't return to the country as her own life would have been in danger also, there was very poor communication in Rwanda so there was no one she could phone to find out if Charles was alright.

Lesley almost immediately returned to Scotland where she was being drip fed small pieces of information about what was happening in Rwanda, Lesley said "It was a living nightmare not knowing if he was dead or alive". As the weeks turned into months, Lesley was hearing more and more rumours that Charles had been abducted and she knew if these rumours were true then he would almost certainly be killed.

After several months of no contact with Charles, Lesley eventually had to accept within herself that Charles had been killed and although there has never been any confirmation of his death, she said that "So many of the Tutsis were just thrown into mass graves".

After the genocide was over, Lesley needed to find some sort of closure for the loss of not only her husband but also for the loss of so many of the people she lived and worked with so in the September of 1994 Lesley decided to revisit the village where she and Charles had once lived, she said "I felt a strong sense of needing to reconnect with the village as I had only gone on holiday to consider my marriage and all of this happened".

Lesley was completely disgusted and extremely angry at what had happened to Charles and so many other innocent people living in Rwanda, she said "It was very difficult for me to know who to focus my anger and disgust at as it wasn't one person responsible for the genocide, it was hundreds of people if not thousands", "I felt a huge sense of sadness and confusion at what had happened, many of the people who were responsible for the killings weren't bad people but tragically they were forced into getting involved"

In 2004 and 10 years after the genocide, Lesley was contacted by a film crew asking if she wanted to go back out to Rwanda to try and find out the truth behind Charles's murder, also to try and track down the people responsible. Lesley said "I had to try and get a better understanding of why Charles was killed and also to see if I could find some sort of forgiveness".

I think that this programme really illustrates the power of forgiveness as well as highlighting that forgiveness is never just black and white but it is often the first step to rebuilding your own life, I completely agree with Lesley when she says "Forgiveness is something that rolls off the tongue so easily but putting it into practice is so much more difficult".

Lesley has since set up a charity called "The Charles Bilinda Memorial Trust" and its purpose is to assist in the education of the Rwandan people. She has also written two books about her experience of living in Rwanda and also losing her husband in the genocide.

Lesley is currently working with the Tutu Foundation where she works with communities throughout the UK to resolve conflict.

This is now the third programme in the series and on a personal note I have learned so much about the meaning of forgiveness and in next week's blog, I hope to summarise both myself and Lorraine's feelings towards the series as well as giving you an insight into the making of the programme.

Philip Sime is the producer of Forgive and Forget



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