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In 1994, work on Gallimore’s second book came to a screeching halt because of the Rwandan genocide, in which roughly one million people were massacred. Included in the numbers of the murdered were Gallimore’s mother, three brothers, and a sister, as well as her extended family. Among the genocide survivors are an estimated 250,000 women and children who were raped. Gallimore eventually returned to working on her book about Beyala’s work, “but it was very hard because I was working on a book about fictional characters who were victims of rape. On the other side, in Rwanda, there were real women who were victims of rape. I have really had to juggle my feelings, and my writing, because it didn’t really make much sense then to write about fiction when reality was so cruel.” Hence, it is no surprise that even as she was finishing her second book, “there was a book about Rwanda right in front of me.” That book, co-edited with fellow Rwandan Chantel Kalisa (University of Nebraska), was called Dix ans après (2005) and features both academic articles and creative pieces on the Rwanda genocide.
Gallimore has merged her academic research with social activism. While her background in linguistic theory is useful in understanding certain linguistic phenomena, she acknowledges that “if I go speak about the semiotics of the language of the genocide, that’s something that academicians would understand, but it may not be useful for someone outside of the association.” Realizing this limitation, she founded Step Up! American Association for Rwandan Women, an organization that recognizes the reality that “the needs of the Rwandan women are enormous. Not only are there concerns for practical things such as jobs, food, and school supplies, but the mental health needs have largely remained unaddressed. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety remain as an aftermath of the intense horror of the genocide.” Step Up has developed a number of projects to help redress these problems.
Béa Gallimore will return to Rwanda periodically to meet with the ABASA women, check on the projects that Step Up has spearheaded, and determine what further steps need to be taken to help these women become financially independent. Their next priority is to build a counseling center, which is becoming increasingly urgent as primary school children, who were not alive during the genocide, are showing signs of trauma. They may be withdrawn, have difficulty with attendance and learning, report nightmares and sleep disturbances, and show signs of anxiety and distress. From studies of the children of the Holocaust survivors, we know that symptoms of trauma may be transmitted down through the generations. Step Up’s mission of improving mental health availability, therefore, is of vital importance. To learn how you can help, go to http://www.stepuprwandawomen.org/.