The country of Rwanda, a land of one thousand hills, is synonymous with one thing—genocide. The month of April is designated as the start of the 100-day mourning period in memoriam of the Rwandan genocide. During this time, Rwandans will wear purple and hang purple banners, along with other displays, as purple is the color of mourning. In a way, this spreads the notion that the genocide was against only the Tutsi, while in reality there were moderate Hutu’s who were slaughtered as well. It almost reaffirms the idea of us versus them—those who wear purple and those who don’t. Many banners will also boast the name of the Tutsi, however, nothing is mentioned regarding the Hutu’s who were also slain.
It’s vital to remember, however, that the genocide affected every family within Rwanda, and neither tribe was left untouched by such a great evil. Husbands were pitted against their wives, neighbor against neighbor, and pastor against parishioner – no Rwandan escaped the genocide, and no Rwandan will ever forget. Although the genocide took place exactly twenty years ago, the effects still linger in every city, village, and home.
Within me, there is an intense desire to change the narrative of such a dark history, to convey overall beauty rather than the blood and carnage that is so often associated with Rwanda, because in reality Rwanda is so much more than that. But maybe nothing really has changed. Sure people are no longer being killed and it has become quite safe to live there, and some even refer to Rwanda as the “darling” of the West. But there are still injustices, as there are in many parts of Africa. For example, there is no freedom of speech; journalists have been killed for merely disagreeing with President Kagame. The average Rwandan also only earns less than a dollar a day, 90% of which are subsistence farmers who need an education to survive. It is these injustices that continue to separate our world from theirs.
April 7, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Twenty years ago I was a carefree seven year old. I spent my days drawing hopscotch squares, playing hockey in the driveway, and riding my bike with my brother. Yet a world away in the African nation of Rwanda, children faced an entirely different fate. They were witnessing the rapes and killings of their family, friends, and countrymen as genocide ravaged their country. They, like me, lacked an understanding of such terrifying events, yet they were forced to face them regardless, while I went on enjoying my childhood, oblivious to their misfortune.
These are the same children who grew up at Gakoni Orphanage. Some of their parents were killed, while other still were genocidaires – or perpetrators of the genocide. Every day, they are the living remnants of a horrific past, and that is just one more reason why Kwizera Hope was founded.
We in first world countries are in need of a great awakening, a change of mindset and perspective that will eliminate the separation between us and them – much as the Tutsi and Hutu must overcome their inclination to segregate between those that acted and those that were acted upon. We are no longer children, cradled in the arms of innocence; we must see those that suffer as our brothers and sisters, as if it were our own family enduring the evils of this world. For we are all one in kind and species – we are all of the human race, and we must reach out to those in need, or we risk losing that part of ourselves which makes us human.
As we remember the genocide that ravaged a tiny, beautiful country a world away twenty years ago, remember also that their suffering continues today. If you can, if you are willing, step outside of yourself, and give a little to those in need. Help us make a difference in the lives of others. Kwizera Hope thanks you and sends love to you and the rest of our brothers and sisters in this world.