This morning I received this gift from my friend, Grace, in Rwanda. She is allowing me to post the piece she wrote as a reflection for the 17th annual commemoration of the genocide. How much we can all learn from Rwanda’s recent memories and reconciliation!
Grace’s article starts here:
Every year in April Rwandans together take a reflective journey in memory of the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives in the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis. It is a past we have to live with each day, one which has affected some of us more than others, yet no one remained untouched. Bear with me if I have to take you back to some painful facts, but we have learnt that we should forgive and move on but never forget lest we let it happen again.
In a span of 100 days over 1,000,000 people lived through the horror of tortures and watched their loved being tortured to death. Why? Because they were Tutsi or Hutu who refused to take part in the atrocities. Why would human beings be filled with so much hatred that they didn’t care any more? It was just killing, it was torturing people to death, letting them die the worst death. When you think of it, it is beyond what the human mind can understand or justify.
However it didn’t happen over night, it started many years before, almost a century before; it started when the Rwandan people accepted divisionism in their once united culture. Children at very young age were taught to despise and hate the other “ethnic groups”.
I wonder how parents and teachers got around answering children’s innocent questions – “I like him/her, why are you telling me to hate them?”
One young man recalled how one day, when he was small boy, he came home anxious. His teacher had said that him and other kids were different, they were Tutsis! When he met his father back home he asked: “Dad, I was told I am Tutsi. Is it true? Did I do something bad? Why did the teacher treat us differently?”
Eventually one thing led to the other. Social injustice and hatred grew until the day it all unfolded and evil was unleashed. People didn’t fear day light. They didn’t care for the cries of plea. The innocent looking faces of children who didn’t know what had befell them. The husband and father who begged that his family would be spared. The women whose faces expressed desperate helplessness …
Let us not forget how the world closed up on them, left them alone to face fierce and hateful neighbors. In memory and respect to them, let us not forget. Let us not stand by for any form of injustice. Every human being has the right to life; everyone has the right to equal access to health care, education and economic opportunities. Don’t stand aside for any injustice, lest it grows and we see history repeat it self.
Today, Rwanda unites in voice to say “Never Again” to Genocide. Never again to social injustice! Never again to divisionism! …Never again because Rwanda is one people!
Each year as we remember our loved ones, we also stand beside all the broken families – orphans and widows. For them the reality of what happened has been stonger than for others. Please take part. Don’t go home and close your door but support all the activities. Visit these families. Join other Rwandans around the fireplaces each evening and listen to the stories of those who lived through it, let us not forget. We learnt our lesson the hard way, let it never repeat it self.
Every evening during the Genocide Commemoration week (April 7 – 14), communities will gather around a fireplace, light candles each and revisit the history that led to the genocide, listen to the testimonies of those strong enough to tell. Through out the week and over the next 100 days, people will bury in honour their loved ones (over the years people have been discovering sites where bodies were amassed and buried during the genocide); many institutions, corporations and individuals will visit orphan and widows to share a meal and support them morally and financially.
One of my favorite authors, Rick Warren, wrote :”Life is a gift…Life is a test… Life is temporary assignment….” Life is indeed a test of the will. Is the nation willing to move forward? To hope again, to rebuild and promise a better future for its children? Yes! We the Rwandan people are willing to live. We have chosen to overcome our differences, our past, and our failures and have hope.
Yesterday I was talking to Mr Riener Schonken, a visiting executive from South Africa, he is in Rwanda to mentor local entrepreneurs through the Rwanda Business Development Centre program. It’s his first time to Rwanda. I asked him what he thought of our country. He said: “I want to go back and invite other South Africans, I will tell them to come and see what hope looks like! That is what I see in Rwanda!…”
I think of our own house divided, in so many ways. Our thinking of those who are different from us as “other”, “them.” Rwanda is a shining light that we ought to be able to see around the world. What will it take?