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Rwandans at the memorial
Rwandans at the memorial

Aurore’s favourite activity was playing hide-and-seek with her brother. Fillette’s favourite food was rice and chips. Organ’s best friend was her sister.

I learned about these innocent, precious-looking children who were systematically killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi while I was visiting the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali this past summer as a student traveller from the United States.

Before embarking on my trip to Rwanda, I familiarised myself with the country’s history of troubles through various books and movies.

I entered the country with an understanding of the Genocide that only literature and the media could have provided, but I left Rwanda with an understanding of the Genocide glimpsed from the stories of primary sources and intimate community experiences.

I was fortunate enough to have seen Genocide memorials in Nyamata and the Memorial Centre in Kigali. In addition, I was privileged to have met with actual Genocide survivors.

All of these meaningful experiences contributed to my immense sense of appreciation and admiration for you as remarkable people.

The first Genocide memorial I visited was in a Catholic Church in Nyamata. I learned that ten thousand Tutsis were killed through mass murder even before the Genocide officially began in 1994.

Grim reality

When I entered the church, I was taken aback by the disturbing sights.

I noticed the many rows of blood-stained clothes that once belonged to Tutsis seeking refuge in the church. The clothes were of various colours, but they were all shrivelled and faded.

I shuddered at the thought that each piece of raiment represented a human being whose life ended here.

Alongside the piles of clothes was a table covered in miscellaneous items, including an identity card, pieces of jewellery, and a digital wristwatch. The watch brought into stark focus that the Genocide was just 18 years ago.

Throughout my visit at the Memorial Centre in Kigali, I was bombarded with many different emotions.

Feelings of anger, confusion, and disbelief all ran through my spine as I read about the causes, consequences, and impact of the Genocide that occurred just a year before I was born.

At times, I questioned how Rwanda could so instantly become filled with torture, abuse, and murder. One room of the museum particularly stood out to me.

There was a video of various genocide survivors speaking about their thoughts on the Genocide. One man explained that he is unable to forgive anyone for what happened. He felt useless. He was afraid to love or trust anyone.

He was even afraid of life itself. Learning about how the Genocide emotionally and mentally affected this specific man made me recognise the depth and cruelty of this tragedy.

Spending an afternoon with two survivors made me realise that you have also been able to maintain positive outlooks toward the Genocide because of the important lessons you gained from it.

Anastase, the rescuer, and Claude, his adopted son, conveyed a heart-wrenching story of bravery and appreciation. During the Genocide, Anastase was a watchman at an orphanage in Nyamata.

He protected all of the children in the orphanage and cared for them as if they were his own. He put his own life at risk because he cared so deeply about the lives of others.

Saving the hapless

He explained how he managed to save the children when the Interahamwe militia came for them; he destroyed the identification lists and told the ring leader that he didn’t know whether the children were Hutu or Tutsi.

Although Anastase spoke in an alien language, his smile and roving eyes showed how proud he was of his accomplishment.

I know that he will make the most out of everything in his life because of the difficulties he faced in the past. I deeply admire him, and he has inspired me to appreciate everyone and everything that I have in my life.

Learning about the Genocide while I was visiting Rwanda was an incredible experience. I learned that when people go out of their way, they have the ability to powerfully affect the lives of others.

The stories of people who persevered and stayed strong despite the horrible circumstances taught me to value the simple things in life that are often taken for granted.

Things can go so wrong in such a short amount of time. (In this case, a hundred days.) But from now on, I will take nothing for granted. Although I recognised its horrific reality, I also realised that there are positive aspects related to the conflict too.

As Rwandans, you were given a sense of encouragement to succeed with all of your daily tasks. You carry your heads high and maintain an optimistic attitude, despite all that you have experienced.

I admire you and your country immensely.

From The Times

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