In the small village of Icyeru, in Mukura sector, located in the southern province of Rwanda, the dark cloud of a broken family hung heavily over the community. The marriage of Alphonsine and Pascal had become a symbol of conflict and deadly violence, leaving their five children trapped in a cycle of neglect, malnutrition, and despair. Against all odds, the intervention of a community volunteer trained by a USAID-funded project, brought them a lifeline, paving the way for a remarkable transformation that would surprise and inspire many.
Alphonsine and Pascal’s union began like any other love story, but the perfect dreams they once shared soon turned into a living nightmare. “My husband gave in to excessive drinking. He’d come back home drunk and beat us. We fought frequently because of this,” shares Alphonsine, a 35-year old mother of five.
Their disagreements escalated into bitter fights, fueled by anger and frustration. The couple was caught in a toxic cycle of violence that threatened not only their own well-being, but also the welfare of their children. Arguments and fights were a daily occurrence, leaving wounds that ran far deeper than the physical scars they bore.
One day, Alphonsine, in a fit of rage, bit off a piece of her husband's ear.
“It was the most terrible day I’ve ever experienced. Feeling blood oozing from my ear down my shoulder, and seeing my wife spitting a piece of my ear onto the floor... it felt like a horrible nightmare,” said Pascal.
Alphonsine was arrested and taken to a police station. Pacal begged the police to set her free. “She did not mean to hurt me. I forgive her,” he told the police. Alphonsine was terrified by her husband’s action. She thought he wanted her out of jail so he could get his revenge. “I thought he wanted to kill me. To protect myself and my children, I ran away,” she said.
Alphonsine took their five children, including Olivier, who was only two years old at the time, to live with their grandmother. Living there was hard. Alphonsine's grandmother struggled to make ends meet, and they were unable to provide even for the most basic of children's needs. Her children were malnourished and dropped out of school.
As the days turned into months, one of their neighbors, Jeanne, decided to get involved and help the family reconcile and reunite. She took it upon herself to facilitate heartfelt discussions between Alphonsine and Pascal, encouraging them to confront the pain, resentment, and remorse that had stood between them.
Jeanne was one of the youth leaders trained by a local organization Never Again Rwanda through a USAID-funded Dufatanye Kwiyubakira Igihugu activity. She received training in human rights, critical thinking, advocacy, and civic participation. Using these skills, Jeanne was able to recognize this family’s need for help and provide the guidance they needed.
With Jeanne firmly by their side, Alphonsine and Pascal embarked on a journey of self-reflection and forgiveness. It was a challenging path, filled with tears and difficult conversations, but they remained steadfast in their commitment to change.
“It wasn’t easy for them. The first time I suggested reconciliation to Pascal, he furiously told me that he would only get back with Alphonsine if the missing part of his ear would grow back,” remembers Jeanne.
She made regular visits to talk to them individually, and convinced them to meet and talk. They learned to share their feelings and thoughts with honesty, to listen to each other's perspectives, and take responsibility for their past actions. The transformative power of their journey began to unfold when Alphonsine and Pascal, after months of soul-searching and self-improvement, found their way back to each other.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Alphonsine and Pascal started working together to ensure a better future for their children.
“Sometimes, I don’t believe it is really us, living this kind of peaceful life. Neighbors can’t believe the transformation we have gone through,” said Alphonsine.
This family's story of redemption and healing resonated within their community and beyond. Their experience served as a beacon of hope for couples grappling with violence and conflict, and proved that when there is will and good people who help, anything is possible.
Alphonsine and Pascal ’s union stands as a testament to the transformative power of love and forgiveness. Their determination to break the cycle of violence and create a nurturing environment for their children has encouraged others to do the same.
USAID continues funding the training for youth leaders like Jeanne who are able to help Rwandan families to break the cycle of violence and live in harmony.
Because of the success of her work with Alphonsine and Pascal, Jeanne was selected by her community to lead the council for reconciliation. She uses her new role to help broken families and advocate for peaceful resolution of disputes in her community.