Burundi: Yvonne Ryakiye

It makes me incredibly happy when I see people who I saved from death, alive.

— Yvonne Ryakiye

Yvonne Ryakiye lives at the foothills of Bujumbura, where many Tutsi families were killed or driven away during the 1993/1994 genocide. Yvonne, a Hutu, started her organization by hiding Tutsi refugees. With the Hutu and the Tutsi entrenched on either side of the Kanyosha River, she took the initiative to re-establish contact with her former Tutsi neighbor Léonie Barakomeza. The two women risked their lives as they crossed the river to visit one another. This began the warming-up of the relations between two hostile ethnic groups.

“As women we have done our best to make the Hutus and Tutsis live together peacefully again, because we do not want to lose our husbands and children,” says Yvonne Ryakiye, a Hutu farmer who lives in Busoro village, where the Kanyosha flows through a deep gorge. The river was considered a natural boundary. Recalls Yvonne, “It was like a wall protecting us from being murdered, because nobody dared to cross it.” During the 1993/1994 genocide the Tutsis were driven from their homes on one side of the river, while the Hutus fled from the opposite bank of the river to Busoro. In the beginning, Yvonne hid Tutsi refugees in her house, but this became too dangerous. However, she was not willing to accept this situation, and when the tension became unbearable, she arranged for a secret meeting with her former neighbor Léonie Barakomeza, a Tutsi. “The fact that she was willing to risk her life to meet me, strengthened me,” says Yvonne today. “Women are the center of the family, that is why we suffer most during times of war and must do anything to end it.” Both women decided to break the ban, by crossing the hitherto insurmountable barrier to visit each other. When they remained unharmed, other women followed their example. Yvonne recalls, “The men were relieved to see the friendly encounter between the women, and those who had previously forbidden their wives to meet with other women now allowed it.” Thereafter Yvonne and Léonie, with other women, founded the Twishakira amahoro (“We want peace") peace organization. Under the organization, the women jointly cultivate fields, reconstruct houses and assist refugees. Yvonne’s assessment of the present situation is, “Although the ethnic conflict has not been forgotten, there is a glimmer of hope for reconciliation and mutual tolerance.”

Twishakira amahoro Search for Common Ground Burundi