Sit back! This is a long one.
Godelieve Mukasarasi formed SEVOTA 23 years ago in Taba, Rwanda – site of some of the harshest acts of the 1994 genocide; home to four of the bravest women I have ever met.
Just over a year ago, Godelieve and three women from Taba visited TCU. They had come to the USA for the premier of Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel’s The Uncondemned. (There is a photograph of the four of them on the home page of this website as well as detailed information about the film, its creative team, and ways to support at essence.) The film premiered at the UN and because TCU was one of the eight producers, everyone then traveled to Fort Worth for a premier here. While visiting, the women came to Erma Lowe Hall to dance with us.
Let me back track a bit: Godelieve is a social worker and psychologist by training and she founded SEVOTA primarily to support women who had born children as a result of rape. In her words: Right from the beginning we focused on counseling, and the clients were almost all women. I started something we called Advice Saturdays, where they could come together and share their experiences… once she has opened up, it’s important for her to speak about the experience among her colleagues [neighbors, acquaintances, friends]. Maybe they hadn’t been subjected to exactly the same traumas, but they were having similar experiences after. So I grouped them together based on their needs. We had a gathering for women who’d been raped, for those who were widows…with this kind or that kind of challenge.*
This is Godelieve.
And I need to establish the importance of dancing. Again, Godelieve’s words: We needed to liberate the negative energy that people were still holding, so we decided to introduce traditional dance, singing, some games and skits that would make people laugh. When you’re dancing, you get some exercise, you feel more joyous, and so you let go naturally of some of the injuries to your heart, to your spirit. It happens automatically. And that’s how these women, little by little, began to restart their lives.*
So while we were dancing together in Erma Lowe Hall, Godelieve stopped us all and said “Come to Rwanda! We invite you to Rwanda.” That’s how we all started together.
As part of almost every engagement we had in Rwanda there was dancing. At SEVOTA, we were greeted with dancing; our friends danced for us; we danced for them (yes, all of us!); we danced together. We made two trips, visiting two of the eleven SEVOTA community centers during our time in Rwanda and at both locations we experienced first-hand the power of dance to communicate and to transport the spirit.
This, we learned, is the embodied process of dance and healing, and the way in which dance plays a part in changing a culture.
*Note: Godelieve’s words come from a book just published in 2017, Rwandan Women Rising. Author Swanee Hunt relates the history of Rwanda over the past ~60 years, frames and gives substance to the recent past and present, and opens the narrative to the voices of 90 Rwandan women to fill in most of the detail. This book has been a fundamental resource for me as I begin to learn about Rwanda, and focus not on the genocide but the tremendous capacity for a country to reconcile and forgive. I am still struggling to understand how this peace-making works. These are not groups of people isolated in different parts of the country, separated by fences or armed guards or the like: these are neighbors learning to live with each other, define governance and justice with each other, cultivate a shared space amongst each other. There are no longer Tutsis, Hutu and Twa in Rwanda – there are only Rwandans. https://www.amazon.com/Rwandan-Women-Rising-Swanee-Hunt/dp/0822362570/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1517341574&sr=1-1&keywords=rwandan+women+rising+by+swanee+hunt