Friday, April 13, 2012

"Learning From Our History To Build a Bright Future"

It has been 18 years since one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century rocked the East African country of Rwanda, claiming the lives of almost a million people in just 100 days.

For the past week, the people of Rwanda have been participating in a genocide commemoration which culminates in a final day of mourning on Friday April 13th. Speeches have been made, testimonials given, memorials conducted, films were screened, flowers laid at grave sites and this year, over 10,000 genocide victims from a mass grave were given proper burials in the southern province.

Purple banners bearing the message “Learning from our history to build a bright future” were draped all across the city of Kigali. Small purple commemorative ribbons were pinned to shirts and, the Rwandan youth’s “Walk to Remember” was carried out all over the country. Healing and education are the two primary objectives of the annual commemoration weeks, and this year, Rwandan academics were encouraged to commit their testimonies to paper, to further the documentation of the 1994 genocide. “Plus Jamais - Never Again” still rings true in Rwanda. It is clearly important to older Rwandans that the younger generation understand how it happened, that they understand the history. They know that this is the only way to ensure that it will never happen again.

On Tuesday, Fossey Fund staff from the Kigali office and the Karisoke Research Center traveled to a village in the Ndera Sector, one hour south of Rwanda’s capital city, to visit a community of genocide survivors. In this remote village, perched on the top of a ridge and overlooking Rwanda’s lush green hills, live 39 individuals who comprise 18 families. This swath of land was gifted to them by the Rwandan government in 2008. Previous to 2008, these survivors were living all over the region, some as refugees, some with friends within the country. Every person, however, was one of the few remaining members of their families. Some were left utterly alone.

 These individuals have banded together to create a small, successful community; they have built a family where there was none. A villager proudly announced that three of their community members graduated from university last year, with degrees in information technology and economics. Two recently married.

The Fossey Fund gave a gift of 18 goats (one for each family unit) and distributed t-shirts, shared drinks and snacks and listened to the community members' testimonies.

Twenty-eight-year-old genocide survivor Ildephonse Ugiringabire spoke at length about the healing process since the genocide and the growth of his nation in the last 18 years. “I believe I can change my country with my knowledge -- help my people to believe that they have a good future, can get married, study at university, grow old...” Despite everything that these survivors have been through, on this bright, sunny Tuesday afternoon in the remote farmland of Rwanda, everyone was all smiles.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

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