Gardens of Forgiveness at the Hotel des Milles Collines, Kigali, Rwanda

By April 17, 2009One Comment


(photo: James Neel)

The hotel name, Des Milles Collines, reflects the French name for Rwanda, [Land] of a Thousand Hills)

by Julie Moir Messervy

This past February, I traveled to Rwanda at the invitation of Reverend Lyndon Harris, the Executive Director of a group called Gardens of Forgiveness. We were there to attend a conference called the Gathering of Forgiveness, which I summarized in a previous posting. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit by the attendees to the famous Hotel des Milles Collines — otherwise known as “Hotel Rwanda” from the 2004 film of that name. The movie’s protagonist is a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle) who sheltered, and thus saved the lives of, over 1000 people during the 1994 genocide. It’s a heart-rending movie that’s a must-see for anyone interested in Rwanda, and the hotel is a must-visit while you’re in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

On one of our last nights in Kigali, about twenty of us bussed over to the Hotel to see it for ourselves. We settled in by the bar and shoved four tables together to keep the group intact. After an hour of drinks and conversation, I realized that “Hotel Rwanda” was the perfect place for an impromptu exercise on designing a garden of forgiveness. So I introduced my tabletop exercise that I often do in my design workshops and asked each of the table groups to create a garden of forgiveness on their table, using anything in the room, on their person, or in their purses as the “garden’s” elements. After six days and nights of being immersed in this subject, they jumped right in and got to work. Within ten minutes, each group came up with some wonderful ideas and images that I hope we’ll be able to use someday on a site somewhere in Kigali. It was also fun to have the Hotel’s present manager and some waiters critique what we did there. Have a look! These videos were created and produced by James Neel, a very talented music and sound designer in Dallas. Thank you, James!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Finally, here’s a press release for a special evening about reconciliation and forgiveness, sponsored by Gardens of Forgiveness, on April 24th at 7:00 p.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 83 Christopher Street, New York:

Hope and Healing Beyond the Genocide in Rwanda and

Lessons for the World Community

Please join us for an inspiring evening as we hear from leaders from the frontline of Rwanda’s transformation: Madam Fatuma Ndangiza, Executive Secretary, National Unity and Reconciliation Commission; Joseph Habineza, Minister of Sports and Culture; and Secretary Jean de Dieu Mucyo, of the National Commission of the Fight Against Genocide. And we look forward to the return of the beautiful Mizero Children of Rwanda and world-renowned Rwandan musician and Ambassador of Peace, Jean Paul Samputu, who will perform.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Glynn Forkey says:

    I was blessed today to attend Julie’s talk on Gardens and Spirituality at Trinity Church in Boston today, during which she (you) asked for input and ideas for a Forgiveness Garden in Rwanda. I didn’t get a chance to add my voice to the others who made wonderful suggestions, but I was reflecting on the importance of ritual in our processes of remembering, witnessing, honoring and healing. Things like lighting a candle (often church sanctuaries have spaces for this), tossing a coin into a wishing well or fountain, planting flowers around a grave or memorial, or placing a pebble on a pile of other pebbles can be powerful actions — and interactions — that connect us to and/or help us surrender the things we hold or that take hold of us. I found myself wondering if there might be space in a Garden of Forgiveness for people to participate in such a ritual as part of their experience within the garden.

    At the same time, I was thinking about the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, another space created for rituals of naming, honoring, and offering– particularly of sorrows, losses, pain. A wailing wall might be a beautiful and profound presence within a Forgiveness Garden, another invitation to actively engage in a personal way while journeying through that space.

    Then, as I walked away from the lecture, I passed by an art installation that resides and is growing on the side lawn of Trinity Church called “the human cost of war.” The artist has been placing small rocks, one at a time, over time, on the lawn, creating a pile that (I believe) will one day contain the same number of rocks as lives lost in the “war on terror.” (I could be wrong about these details, but I know that each stone represents a human life.) The pile has grown and grown over the months, even through the winter when covered with snow, and it feels like an authentic honoring of the individuals it represents. Bringing all of these thoughts, reflections and experiences into dialogue with one another, the image of an area of the Forgiveness Garden where people could both participate in a ritual whereby they are able to honor and grieve — perhaps placing a stone from a jumbled pile of stones (a mountain, perhaps?) onto what might become a wailing wall, a wall along a path in the garden, not a wall to divide but a wall built together by all who have been affected by the suffering in Rwanda — as well as to be co-builders of the garden, creating something new from “rubble,” making beauty from the remains and the rememberings of the war.

    I don’t know if this post will reach anyone who might still be receiving suggestions or ideas for this garden, or if this idea is interesting, viable, relevant, etc… but I offer it I guess as a prayer of my own, for the process of healing that might be nurtured by this garden, and for those who may one day travel its paths and find themselves transformed by its offerings.

    Thank you, Julie, for your time and inspiration; it was a blessing to meet you and to participate, even if only through a blog comment, in the graced ministry of your work.

    Much peace,