Fragments of families - visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial was eye-opening for all of the participants at peace camp. Among the powerful exhibits were wall-to-wall photos of family members who had been killed: a mom, a son, an aunt, a cousin…row after row of victims. One section contained photos of babies and young children. Each had a small note card that listed their name, age, favourite food, favourite activity and how they were killed: thrown against a wall; hacked with a machete; shot in the head; thrown down an outside toilet…
It leaves you wondering about evil and injustice. How do you respond? With despair and a sense of futility? With anger and desire for revenge? Or with hope and determination to overcome evil with good?
On another wall were stories of people who helped their neighbours and others, often at great personal cost. I’m glad the memorial included this. It’s important to have this reminder of goodness at work even in the midst of evil – and that you have a personal choice to make. How do you wish to live? To go along with evil or to take a stand against it?
Seeing one of the young boys come and comfort the other (pictured above) is hope for Rwanda, for all of us. They symbolize a brotherhood that is possible and the willingness of youth to not only learn from past mistakes, but to also work together to build peace and community – a better life not just for themselves, but for each other. Empathy is a crucial building block in this process. Being able to listen to someone’s story or opinion or perspective builds empathy, dignity and respect. We hope that the peace camp opens up these safe spaces to share, learn and listen. To be able to talk to, not at, each other.
Back at camp, we had a time to reflect and share about the memorial visit. Here is one youth reflection from that day:
Yesterday when we went to the memorial site emotionally it took me back to a bad situation. Yes, it’s better to remember our history so that we can build a bright future, but when I looked on photos I saw one woman who was the older sister of our neighbour. I just saw her begging UN armies to save her and eventually they didn’t save her so that made me to be even more sad.
Also there was a small text which was on the side of a photo of General Dallaire who was a UN chief commander in Rwanda in 1994. It said that he wrote a letter to the UN headquarters showing the situation which was bad in Rwanda, but they didn’t authorize him to fight against genocide! So that text message also made me very sad. So though I read some text messages of UN chambers negotiating what they didn’t do to save people, this should make the whole world not repeat the same mistake.
So from these things I was very sad, but it also makes me to be strong and say ‘NEVER AGAIN’.
Music soothes the soul…later that afternoon, youth gathered to sing somgs of love, peace and unity. Listen to one song.
For more youth peace media, see Change Poems.
Paulette Baraka/Peace Camp 2012: Some emotional hurts are lighter, don’t last long and are more visible than others; while some are deep wounds, hard to see, long-lasting, buried within, and surface in a variety of ways and behaviours.
Don’t you think we’ve had enough extreme hate in our world? Time for some extreme loving!
To help youth cope with what they saw and felt at the memorial, and to be able to better understand each other, we had a session on trauma and mental health led by psychologist Paulette Baraka. At the heart of her teaching is belief in the dignity and value of each person. And that God can heal any wound in life.
We believe that helping youth to discover inner peace, to know that they are created in God’s image, loved by God, is an important step in life and in any peace-building. For it’s only in knowing deep in your heart and mind that you are truly loved and valued, that you can treat others in the same way – with love and respect. And have the strength to not be overcome by evil, but instead to conquer evil by doing good. Join us.
p.s. We’re busy working on exciting plans for Peace Camp 2013. More details to be posted shortly along with updates from youth peace clubs and some of their activities during this time of the 19th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi.
Photos: Johnny Lam Photography/A Peace of Life. All rights reserved.
Pictured: Hope lights the way. Club Unity (a peace club started by youth in Rwanda) ends a day of community service, repairing homes of Genocide orphans and widows, with a time of testimony, prayers, songs and a commitment to peace, as part of their 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi where an estimated 1 million people were killed in a 100-day period (April – July, 1994).
Club Unity was started by youth who attended the first peace camp (Nov. 2010) offered by A Peace of Life in partnership with AEBR Youth. Today anywhere from 100-200 youth meet on Saturdays at the small, local Baptist church in Mubago and they have started a variety of peace-building activities including microcredit. As part of the 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, they planned a special day of community service and testimony.
Anthony, one of the Club Unity founders, forwards this account of their commemoration day, held Sat, Apr. 28, from 6 am to 10 pm:
Today, very early in the morning, we went – almost 37 people, most of us youth – to the hill located in our village to dig and transport sand to use to repair houses of Genocide orphans and widows.
After noon, at 14:00, we met in the garden at Mubago Church with many people to have dialogue about our Rwanda history. After this time of sharing, 4 widows of Genocide received the gift of one goat each from our Club. We did this action as a sign to show that we have taken up the challenge to change from our country’s bad history to a new future. We want to treat each person as created in the image of God. Commemoration During the 100 days of Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, our Club Unity will collect money to buy three more goats to help three more widows (for a total of 7 to be helped). We will also have a voluntary day of work each month during this time to keep helping the Genocide survivors. We do all these things because we want to look to the future – to go ahead without stopping – to heal the grief of our relatives.
See more photos from Club Unity’s day of commemoration and community service.
Trauma continues to be big issue faced by youth, and people of all ages, in Rwanda. A Peace of Life has arranged to have Anthony continue to receive training in peer-to-peer trauma counselling (graciously offered by Paulette Baraka, one of our volunteer professionals who conducted a trauma and mental health workshop at last year’s peace camp). See more photos.
We are so inspired by the courage and commitment of youth like Anthony and his Club Unity members. We hope you are too! Fundraising is now underway to help more youth like Anthony have an opportunity to attend Peace Camp (the next one is scheduled for the last week in November 2012). Please help us today.
April is a time when painful memories surface in Rwanda. As part of the 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, we feature this very special guest post by a young Rwandan courageous enough to bare his soul, sharing his personal experience and hope for his homeland.
Through Forgiveness, Rebuild the Future
A reflection and poem by Timo
I remember that President Habyarimana kept referring to my country, Rwanda, like a glass full of water: “If the glass was already full, how could you pour more water inside? If you pour more water and the glass is full, water will flow over, everywhere.”
What he meant was that before Tutsis could return home, those that were in the country would have to go. Before we could return, more of us were supposed to die so we could fill the place where they were, because there was no place for us.
Following the genocide, the newly established government encouraged those who had killed others to ask for forgiveness, while asking those who had lost their families to extend their forgiveness and try to move forward. Those Hutus that fled into Zaire (currently Democratic Republic of Congo) and other surrounding countries were asked to come back and help rebuild the country, even though some of them had participated in destroying it.
At first, it was difficult for both sides to show understanding towards each other. But over time, people found that to be able to build the country, they needed to work together and live together in peace, even though others still harbored the same mindset to pull the country back into darkness.
Let us remember what happened in 1994; the destruction of the country, and the overpowering smell of death everywhere. When we compare that with our homeland today, merely 18 years after the genocide, the country has been rebuilt. How about we keep moving in this direction? Let us show them, those who have destroyed, and have in mind to destroy again, that we are conquerors.
The way I try to forgive is just to try to move on, to go to a new page in my life, to take another step forward. If I keep reminding myself, keep going through the pain, keep having conflict with the people that have killed my family, I will never take another step, never go to another stage of my life. I will never forget what happened, but try to understand the situation, to be able to move on with my life and not let the others’ actions in the past be the barrier for me to go to another place. I can do more. I can prove more. When you fail, and someone wishes you to fail, he will be happy, because he is successful. But if you succeed in what you were supposed to fail, he will be unhappy, because he or she didn’t find what was expected. This is what we are doing, not out of revenge. I do it for my future. I do it for the people who will come after me, like my children, so they will never face the same problem as I faced.
Return to the Homeland
Return to the homeland, site of destruction
Smell in the air, bodies stacked where once homes were
Families, histories, disposed of and drained with sewage
Memories lost, replaced with those that awaken our tenuous rest
Distinction of once-measured faces; us and them, them and us
Tension and fear that the tide will turn backwards
Over hatred and resentment that our presence made the glass flow over
But we are the same in belief and culture, home and hope
Fight not for revenge against them, but to turn the page for us
Look back to family lost while stepping forward for our children
When failure is to be defeated, resistance will be to succeed
Forgiveness because we choose never to understand hate
Assured that only God will ever know the purpose of this suffering
With strength, we will our hearts to change chapters
The dawn of spring brings with it the return of blood in our minds
But with the absence of hate in this eternal loss
And hope for our future when we accept and forgive.
About the photo: One of the rivers in Rwanda said to be the source of the Nile. During the 100-day killing spree of the Genocide, rivers became clogged with dead bodies. The river is a poignant reflection of the intense pain behind the intense beauty of the country.
Coming up: We’re getting ready to launch a national contest in Rwanda to pick participants for Peace Camp 2012. We hope to bring 50 youth together for 10 days of storytelling and peacebuilding through creative arts and the media. Learn more how you can help make this happen.
See what happened last year at camp.
During April, Rwanda becomes the country of a thousand tears as the nation gathers to remember and mourn those tragic days when society failed – when over 800,000 (a conservative estimate) people were slaughtered in the Tutsi Genocide within a mere 100 days. The scale and intensity of this time remains unfathomable. And while today there’s an uneasy peace, so much remains unsaid. For some, it’s still too painful to put into words. For others, there’s a desire to try and forget and move on. And then there are those who still attempt to bury the truth, denying either their role or what happened. More truth-telling is needed for reconciliation.
It is not easy. There is no quick fix when trust has been broken. Reconciliation is often a slow and painful journey that differs for each person. Time and grace are the best gifts that can be offered - time and grace to allow each one to heal in his or her own way. Simply telling someone, “You must forgive,” is not helpful. Forgiveness emerges when one is ready and able to make peace with one’s own past. Once you have this inner peace, you are then able to reach out to others. It’s a journey that starts with love.
“Love is a catalyst for peace…it sets you free yourself,” commented one of the youth at peace camp. She and the other youth at camp were inspired by the story of a group of students who made a courageous stand for unity, at great personal cost, three years after the genocide. Love is at the root of their story. “We were training to love each other,” noted Phanuel, one of the survivors. Read more about the Nyange national heroes.
Memory is important to the peace process. Stories must be remembered and shared for more understanding and common ground. Commemoration, in spite of being so difficult, is an essential time to cry together, to remember together, but also to commit anew to working together. It’s a time to shed a thousand tears of hope for a better future where all may live together in true peace, recognizing the value and dignity of each person.
It’s the message behind Easter, where we encounter the source of true love, the God of all creation, who sent his only son, Jesus, to show us the way. Through his death and resurrection all may be reconciled to God and to each other. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis occurred on the eve of the Easter season. A soul-wrenching reminder of the battle raging between good and evil in our world. Are we complicit? Complacent? Or committed to not be overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good?
A group of youth have committed themselves to doing just that. They call themselves Youth Catalysts for Peace. Learn more
Help sponsor Peace Camp 2011 where we will be working with youth on skills development in conflict transformation including anger management and trauma counselling and sharing more stories through drama, song and dance.
Note: The photo in this posting is an outtake from a new short film, Tears of Hope, soon to be released by Almond Tree Films, Rwanda. It was produced from a script written by youth at our first peace camp (held last November) to highlight one of the issues they felt most strongly about: the plight of orphans who are taken into other people’s homes. Other short films from Almond Tree Films, Rwanda, such as the powerful Long Coat, are also available. Contact us to book your own special showing or peace camp presentation.