Patricia Heaton Shares Inspiring Story of Rwandan Family Who Found Peace Through Tragedy (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
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Patricia Heaton's life has forever changed after taking a trip to Rwanda and hearing people's stories.
The actress partnered with World Vision to visit the African country, and not only help them obtain access to clean water, but also hear inspiring tales of how people overcame tragedy.
During her visit, Heaton met with two families whose lives changed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Andrew Birasa and Callixte Karemangingo were childhood friends, and when the Hutus and Tutsis turned against each other things between the two were never the same.
"Callixte was part of a group that murdered Andrew's wife's family," Heaton explained in ET's exclusive video of her recent trip to Rwanda. "Callixte went to prison afterwards for 13 years."
While Callixte was incarcerated, Andrew only had hatred for his former friend. "I hated him, his wife hated my wife, my children hated their children," he explained, with Callixte revealing, "When I got in prison, I spent a lot of time in grief. I repented my sins to God and also to my friends."
But from tragedy came peace. While Callixte served his time, his and Andrew's wives forged a friendship because their children were suffering. That is when they overcame their hatred of one another and started working together.
"Often it's the women that bring people together," Heaton explained. "Eventually as Callixte came out of prison, Andrew was able to forgive him."
More than ten years later, that forgiveness also gave way to love. Two of their children are now engaged and plan to get married when they finish school.
"When I walked into that house and saw them all sitting there together, and greeted them, and Andrew took my hand," Heaton recalled. "I looked into his eyes and I immediately just fell apart. The love that was coming off of him, the peace, this family is so prospering. Now they're business partners, the [two wives] run a coffee company together… and Andrew and Callixte run a cattle company together."
"They've been completely blessed by their ability to let go of revenge," she added. "It restores your faith in mankind and it shows you what people can do when they work together, and we should really overcome our differences to help each other."
As for how World Vision is helping out families who were affected in the genocide? The organization implemented a program of sharing personal memories of the genocide to manage deeply-painful emotions and teach people to forgive one another. Per World Vision, "those who participated in the genocide were brought face to face with, or wrote letters, to those who had been victims. The approach was replicated all over the country and embraced by the new government. While it was often resisted at first, and sometimes took years to change hearts, case after case it worked."