TIG – Community Service for Prisoners

TIG is a Rwandan program allowing people found guilty of participating in the genocide to serve all or part of their sentences doing community service. TIG, “Travail d’Intérêt Général,” is a French acronym that means “works of general service.” The program is normally referred to as community service, but it is not the same kind of community service we see in the United States.

Rwanda 2009

TIG prisoner giving thumbs up.

The program allows eligible prisoners to complete their sentences through participation in activities such as clearing ground, road building, construction of houses for genocide survivors, clay mining, and brick and tile manufacturing. Participants are referred to as tigistes and they engage in hard physical labor: breaking and hauling rocks, digging with picks and shovels, and manually moving earth by hand, sack, or wheel barrel. Many of the workers do not wear shoes.

This new road is being excavated and leveled by TIG members. It leads to an area where other participants are constructing homes for genocide survivors. Rwanda

This new road is being excavated and leveled by TIG members. It leads to an area where other participants are constructing homes for genocide survivors – Rwanda

The Rwandan government hails TIG as the best way to blend justice and reconciliation, helping to ease confessed killers back into Rwandan society. Reintegration, skill training, re-education and sensitization are part of the TIG design.

A million people were killed in the genocide; millions more were implicated, both directly and indirectly, as participants in the killings. Supporters of the program reason that all who participated cannot possibly be imprisoned, and TIG administers appropriate justice while serving to reconcile the Rwandan population. However, the program is not without its controversy. Some victims’ groups believe that consequences for the guilty are too lenient for the crimes they committed.

A day spent touring the TIG work sites was not about testimonials from the prisoners, evaluating philosophical approaches, punitive effectiveness, or rehabilitative results. It was centered around operational functions and the people carrying them out.

Row by row new homes are being built for genocide survivors by TIG prisoners.  Rwanda

Row by row new homes are being built for genocide survivors by TIG prisoners -  Rwanda

I toured three primary sites in eight hours, as well as a camp compound where large orange tents provide living quarters for the tigistes. By the end of the day I had seen every aspect of housing construction for genocide survivors. The tigistes mined raw materials – from dirt for bricks, to clay for molding roofing tiles, to earthen materials used to make the hard concrete pads that serve as foundations for the houses, and the smooth adobe that covers and seals the brick walls. Each process began with digging earth.

Homes are built from the ground up, starting with excavation – not of a basement, but a thirty meter rectangularpit – the toilet.

After clearing the land, TIG prisoners in Rwanda dig the toilet.  The first step in construction of a home.

After clearing the land, TIG prisoners in Rwanda dig the toilet. The first step in construction of a new home.

Bricks that make the core walls of houses also begin with excavation. Red dirt, the hallmark of African soil, is dug from a hillside, sifted, sorted and carried off.

Raw materials for brick making are excavated from hillside soil

Raw materials for brick-making are excavated from hillside soil.

TIG members sifting dirt for making bricks

TIG members sifting dirt for making bricks

When the dirt is ready, it's carried to the brick making area.

Sifted dirt is ready for brick-making.

A hundred meters uphill from the quarry are two hydraulic compressors designed for molding bricks. Each machine, the size of a refrigerator, is run by a small kerosene generator. Other than the car we drove in on, they are the only machinery on site

Forty minutes by car, nestled at the head of an open valley with terraced hills rising from three sides, is a tile and brick factory. Clay mined from a river bed is used for construction of rounded roof tiles and other types of brick and building materials.

TIG tile and brick factory

TIG tile and brick factory

On the right, a large pile of mined clay awaits processing. On the left, a TIG member works the clay with his feet.

On the right, a large pile of mined clay awaits processing. On the left, a TIG member works the clay with his feet.

Again, the first step begins with excavation. Clay is carried and piled inside open buildings where it’s processed for tile and brick molding. Processing consists of stomping and beating the clay with Neanderthal sized wooden clubs.

TIG workers beat the clay until it reaches the proper consistancy for tile and brick making.

TIG workers beat the clay until it reaches the proper consistancy for tile and brick making.

When ready, it’s taken to other areas for tile and brick fashioning.

Roofing tiles are shaped around a wooden form, then left for drying.  Later they will be baked in an oven for hardening.

Roofing tiles are shaped around a wooden form, then left for drying. Later they will be baked in an oven for hardening.

Later that afternoon we ate lunch with administrators at a camp where large orange tents had been erected for shelter and sleeping quarters while these tigistes finish their time in the program.

In the TIG program, members work 3 days on then 3 days off.  Many live in the field where projects are under way.

In the TIG program, members work 3 days on then 3 days off. A few are allowed to commute from their homes. Most live in the field where projects are under way. Each tent holds between fifty and eighty people.

Lunch is eaten outside and inside the tents.

Lunch is eaten outside and inside the tents.

All photography copyright 2009 Adam Bacher. Absolutely no use without prior authorization.

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7 thoughts on “TIG – Community Service for Prisoners

  1. Hannah

    Dear Adam.
    The photos are very strong! I would like to ask you if I can use one of them to show at my school. I was in Rwanda this January and we visited TIG but were not allowed to take pictures. I am a community college teacher and want to show my students in a Peace and Conflict course.
    I would be grateful for your permission. The one I want is

    Reply
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  3. Ambrose Nzeyimana

    I am Rwandan and happened to have lost many of my people during the genocide. My mother died in a refugee camp in 1994 in Eastern Congo. I wasn’t able to be with her. I don’t know even where she is buried or if she was even buried at all. My surviving relatives are either in prison or denied fundamental rights such as exercising their freedom of speech or association or property.

    TIG that this article praises happened to be a modernised version of what my Hutu parents experienced during the Tutsi monarchy before Rwanda’s independence. Today Tutsi are ruling over the country. An updated system for Hutu enslavement was necessary to avoid formal suspicions against an apartheid like official policy.

    The narrative of the genocide is today being reviewed. There have been many cover ups. But the one thing I would highlight here is who was to benefit from the tragedy. Unless those who praise above pictures cannot go beyond the official narrative about Hutus as described as only animals who look like human, it would be unconceivable not to review what hapened in 1994 under a different perspective.

    If the objective was to enslave again Hutus as before, haven’t the ruling Tutsis today achieved it by using the genocide. If this was their objective, didn’t they make it happen, pushing Hutus, using them sometime to massacre Tutsi, while themselves killing indistinctively Hutus and Tutsi they didn’t want?

    Please stop looking at these poor Hutus as if they were exotic gorillas. I don’t deny that there may be some who effectively committed genocide. But what I oppose is using a crime of the few for victimising a whole community for policial strategy. And that’s what Paul Kagame, the Rwandan dictator, has managed to achieve and make the external world think and believe that he is performing a great job.

    Reply
  4. Adam Backer

    This is a really touching and wonderfull story that you have covered, really enjoyed going through the article.

    A junior passionate photographer like me has got a lot to learn from you. You really inspired me.

    Looking forward to hear from you

    Reply
  5. Evelyn Sharenov

    This is a beautiful and interesting blog entry – how informed Rwanda appears to be regarding rehabilitation of political prisoners – as opposed to our ham-handed half-hearted attempts, over-crowded prisons, starving prisoners, and torture.

    Reply

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