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.
Happy Easter, with love from Rwanda
Think change is impossible? Be inspired by these Change Poems written by courageous youth as part of activities at Peace Camp 2012.
I was… hopeless.
I remember… little children encouraged to kill.
I heard… people calling others animal names.
I saw… people mistreating their neighbours.
I worried… about the day after that.
I thought …it was the end of life.
But I want to change.
I am… built up with peace.
I think… of the world with love and peace.
I will try… to live in peace with myself.
I feel… so strong.
I forgive… all mistaken elders.
Now I can change.
I will… be a peace-builder.
I choose… to follow the bright side.
I dream… of making the world more peaceful.
I hope… to live in a wonderful place.
I know… I will make it in Jesus’ name.
I will change.
View Change Poems 2012 Presentation for more inspiring youth poems.
As we enter Holy Week, a time of intense sorrow but also incredible joy, we remember, reflect and celebrate the world’s greatest example of love and forgiveness – the death and resurrection of Jesus so that all can be reconciled to God and to each other. It’s a message of true peace. It starts with a personal choice to change.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis occurred on the eve of the Easter season. Neighbour sat beside neighbour in church and then some went about brutally eliminating their neighbour. It’s a soul-wrenching reminder of the battle raging between good and evil in our world. Are we complicit? Complacent? Or are we committed to not being overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good? There are many youth in Rwanda who are committed to doing just that, to being peacemakers in whatever situation they find themselves in.
We believe it starts with treating each other with dignity, to listen, to show empathy, to help each other explore skills and talents. We encourage the use of the arts to stimulate creativity and sharing our stories, to discover common ground.
Photos: Johnny Lam Photography/A Peace of Life. All rights reserved.
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.
Phanuel Sindayiheba is a survivor – and a national hero. He will never forget what happened, the scars remain etched on his body and in his mind. It was March 18, 1997, three years after the genocide. He was studying at secondary school in Nyange, a region riddled at that time with unrest as rebels waged their battle against the new government. Buses were stopped and burned. People intimidated. And then one day, an attack on students.
Last November, Phanuel joined us at peace camp for a memory walk to his former school where the attack took place. He shared some of his story. Here are some excerpts.
The shock is still there, flashbacks, when I go back to that event. In 1995, after the genocide there were bodies everywhere, you could see people’s wounds and trauma, many of the perpetrators were still living in the rural areas and not yet in jail. In 1996-97, the rebels were still fighting against the new government and in this area you could hear the bullets and bombs.
At school, we were from different backgrounds — children from Hutu families, where in those years many felt that a Hutu was equal to a genocide perpetrator so children from those families were ashamed of being Hutu; children from Tutsi families who were traumatized; and children who were from Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, who had never lived in Rwanda and grew up in refugee camps with stories about a bad Hutu who kicked them out of Rwanda. So you take all these children from different backgrounds and put them in one school, let them eat together, fetch water together, sleep in the same dorm, sit on same bench. At first, we stayed within our small groups – Burundi with Burundi, genocide survivor with genocide survivor, those with fathers in jail. But after three years, we had become one.
On March 18, 1997, it was around 8 pm, the main gates were locked, we had finished dinner and some of us were back in our classrooms reviewing our notes. I was in Class 6. We started to hear gunshots, but thought it was nothing big, that it was just rebels fighting soldiers. But after 15 minutes, the noise kept increasing instead of reducing, and we wondered what was going on. Then we saw fires outside and bullets started to hit the windows. I told everyone to lie down on the floor so bullets wouldn’t hit us. The bullets kept increasing and all the windows were broken. After a few minutes, it stopped and then three young men with machine guns burst in. They tried to disguise who they were, wearing both military and civilian clothes, and hid their face and eyes. “Do you know me?” asked one of them in a crazy, crazy kind of French accent. He looked like the leader.
One of us said, “We don’t know you.”
Then he said, “You will see me, but before you see me, I want you to help me, to facilitate me with my job. Hutus on the right side, and I know here we have Tutsis, so Tutsis go to the left side.”
We all heard him clearly and we knew what he wanted. Everybody kept quiet. So he repeated his command a second time.
“We do not have Hutus or Tutsis here, we are Rwandans,” said one girl, Chantal.
Thinking that she was confused, they went outside and threw two grenades inside, into a small room like that. Some students were blinded, others had their legs cut off, others were crying.
The first grenade actually created a big hole in the floor. The second grenade fell on my back.
They wanted to intimidate us, to show us that the situation is serious, that the one who was Hutu or Tutsi should decide immediately whether to separate. Then they came back inside the room and gave the same order. “Hutus aside, Tutsis aside.”
There was a young man who always sat in front of me. He had survived the genocide, just he alone with his brother, while the rest of the family was destroyed. We used to call him the philosopher, and he said to the rebels, “We have already told you, we are not Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandans.”
So they shot both him and Chantal immediately, in that same moment. When he replied that way, even after they had thrown in grenades, they realized that nothing would change our minds and they started shooting us, row after row. One of the rebels guarded the door so no one could escape.
I was in the third row. A grenade is the worst thing, if you see how they prepare brochettes, my back was like that, and I had this thought to just raise my head from under the desk so they shoot me and I die. But then I had another thought. Something else inside my mind that said that this would be suicide, please, don’t stick your head up. Five bullets hit my arm.
Some details from this night I’m not going to say here, but when they shot us, a girl asked me to pray because we are going to die. We prayed and I asked them to remember the word we read in Hebrews 12:14, to be at peace with everybody.
Another group of rebels went to Class 5. When they got the same answer as the one we gave, the answer was given by Helen, a girl whose dad was in jail suspected of genocide crimes, they got mad immediately. As one of the rebels grabbed her she said, “Are you going to kill me, and yet I know you.” Realizing that she could identify him, he shot her. Another student, Valence, who had actually lived with soldiers as a child solider, but was back at school, tried to stand up and take the rebel from the back, to save Seraphine, another girl who the rebels recognized. They killed him, too.
Students in the other classes ran and hid down in the bush. So the night passed like that. Six students died, many others were badly injured. Once soldiers in the area realized that rebels had attacked our school, they came to help us. All night they and other students and people from the community took care of us. In the morning we were loaded into local taxis and taken to hospitals. Because of the extent of my injuries, I was in hospital after hospital, for a whole year. Some students returned to school after two weeks, but others were too traumatized to come back. Later on the Government recognized what we did and made us national heroes.
Many of my classmates still suffer today from their wounds, crippled in their body or psychologically wounded. In 2002, we started an association called KOMEZUBUTWARI, Continue Being a Hero. We’re trying to do our best to promote peace and to help youth become the peace makers. We also do advocacy for those who are blind or crippled, but would like to continue to study.
Here are just some of the questions youth had the opportunity to ask.
Youth #1: You told us about being in different groups, from different backgrounds. How did you manage not to separate yourselves?
Phanuel: There are three things that helped us to become one. The first one is the personal values you should have, but also important is leadership. We had an old guy who was in charge of religion, a chaplain, and his slogan was, “Do the good things so that evil may be destroyed” and there were some teachers and parents who were good examples, encouraging us to love each other and help one another. The second is the power of the word of God. I was one of the leaders of a worship group where Catholic, Protestant and whoever else wished, would gather together, and we kept stressing peace, love, unity. We became strongly united. After three years, nobody wrote a bad message in toilets. In the very beginning, you could see these things, but not after three years. The third thing is the government policy of unity and reconciliation, to live at peace with everybody. We were motivated by the way they looked at things.
Youth #2: I want to really understand that power that animated you. The genocide was just a few years back so the wounds were still fresh and there was that bad spirit, tell us, practically, we want to know, practically, how you managed to have that courage?
Phanuel: Besides the things I just said, I am a Christian and there is my family education. In my family, we didn’t have problems between Hutu and Tutsi, and during the genocide I saw people helping each other so I could not personally tolerate somebody killing a neighbour. So the reason I didn’t stand up, it’s my education from my family, the experience I’d seen in the genocide and the word of God that was in me. I was a youth leader, and if I preached that people should live in peace, I could not stand up. In Class 5, Helen was also reading in the Bible that night to students, from Romans 8, where it talks about what can separate us from the love of Christ. Is it death? Is it persecution? Is it hunger? Nothing can separate us from God’s love. We were deeply grounded in the word and that‘s what helped us a lot. Nothing could separate us because in the last three years we had been training ourselves to love each other.
Youth #3: I’m wondering if those rebels, when they were later integrated, brought back into the army, does the government trust them 100%?
Phanuel: Let’s focus on a typical experience we can relate to, like somebody living in the rural area. Somebody who just repented about what he did in the genocide, what do you think, do you trust him? Many dilemmas come in, somebody might repent and totally change, because the Bible says that someone in Christ is a new creature, and the past is gone and everything is new, so somebody can change, but there are some people who can repent only for their own interests. It’s only God who knows the hearts.
Youth #4: The rebels came here and killed people and today they are in the army. Then the rebel is promoted, has a big rank, and I (a soldier) am not promoted. I may do crazy things like take revenge. What do you think?
Phanuel: I’m a civilian, so I’ll answer you as a civilian. Think about somebody who killed five, six people, he took responsibility for his actions, served some time in jail, and now he’s back, he has cars and a good house and more than anybody else, and there is a genocide survivor living in a small house of 25 iron sheets. Do you think these people can keep living together? That’s why we are here in this peace camp. I read the logo you made, youth catalysts for peace. You know in chemistry what a catalyst is – something that improves, accelerates, the reaction, the chemical. So seriously it is hard for them to cohabitate, but that’s why you are here. You are catalysts. You have to accelerate people, bring them together, help people who could not otherwise live together be able to live together. That’s why we have these initiatives like peace camps, for people like you who say I need to take a stand, a step, to do something. We are investing in you, sowing seeds, so that you may go and help our society. It’s a big, big challenge, but you have to do it and we are here to help you make a better future.
We were all powerfully moved and inspired by our day with Phanuel. Youth shared some of their thoughts:
“Heroism is real, and in this peace camp we saw a living hero; it is a sacrifice to be a peace maker and each one of us should strive to be a hero; the hero making process has started already in this peace camp.”
“The walk helped me to realize that together we can do an act of heroism, but separate is more difficult, we must work together.”
“I learned that living together for peace and even accepting to die for peace.“
Since the peace camp, several youth have already started their own peace clubs at school and in the community. They have become real catalysts for peace.
As for Phanuel, he continues to work for holistic development through community development programs, healing and reconciliation programs. He hopes to continue his studies in 2012 and improve his skills by taking a Master’s degree in Organizational Development and Leadership, if he’s “lucky to have a scholarship.”
Last week marked 14 years since the school attack. ”For this particular period, it is somehow difficult because it brings back the sad memory and horrible events we have experienced that night (March 18th 1997),” reflects Phanuel. “I’m convinced that I survived for a purpose, to serve my community, help the young generation to prepare a future better than their present situation and different from the one of our ancestors.”
During this period, Phanuel helps organize special events like a commemorative event at Nyange School and conducts seminars and transformative teachings for youth. “It is also a good time for me to visit some orphans and children who are heading households, to help them cope with their situation.”
See more photos from peace camp and our memory walk.
Happy Valentine’s Day! A little brotherly love, from Rwanda.
Today is a great day to celebrate the power of love and the power of human dignity. Both are crucial in the fight against racism, AIDS, corruption, greed, jealousy – against anything that causes suffering and conflict in our world. We pass along one of our favourite passages used in our personal reflection time at peace camp, last November:
Evil is only overcome in one way – by the power of sacrificial goodness. Evil is not overcome by more evil. Evil begets evil. Violence more violence. Hatred more hatred. Only sacrificial goodness stops evil in its tracks…we overcome evil by speaking the truth, by blessing the enemy, enduring the suffering instead of inflicting the suffering…goodness that is willing to go all way way…sacrificial love. – Discipleship on the Edge
This past weekend, from Egypt to South Africa, there was a celebration of freedom, but also a reminder of the personal cost. We commemorate those who died in the protests in Egypt at the same time as remembering the anniversary of the release of Mandela after a lifetime spent in prison. His story encourages us to persevere, to pursue peace and justice not through violence and retaliation, but rather through love and mercy. It’s a difficult, but beautiful path – and really the only way to truly forgive, reconcile, and live as brothers and sisters in our world.
Next month our blog will feature the remarkable story of heroes in Rwanda. Pictured above: Phanuel visiting the tomb of one of his classmates, Chantal, who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace. Photo taken by our gafotozi.
So, this Valentine’s Day, we send love to all youth working for peace. You are the true heroes today. We love you. Keep up the good fight!
Join us! Instead of chocolates or flowers, how about giving seeds? Help plant more peace and love in Rwanda. Donate today for our next youth peace camp, November 2011.
p.s. “brotherly love” photo taken at a youth World AIDS Day event in Kigali sponsored by a peace of life…umutuzo mu buzima.
“You have to see it to believe it.”
Perhaps that’s the best message a day like today offers, as people around the world celebrate International Day of Peace. A glimpse of what could be that captures the spirit and the imagination.
Maiden of Peace
It’s only fitting today to share the story of young *Chantal Mujawamahoro (maiden of peace in kinyarwanda) and her classmates at Nyange Secondary School in Rwanda. *not pictured
In 1997, three years after the official end of the genocide in Rwanda, militia rebels continued in their mission to wreak havoc. One night, they burst into a school classroom where students had just finished homework and evening prayers. They demanded that students separate into Hutu and Tutsi. Their intention was clear – to kill all the Tutsi students.
But Chantal refuses. “All of us are Rwandans here,” are her last words as she’s shot dead. Her courage and conviction inspire her fellow classmates, and they too refuse to separate. Rebels continue to fire and even use grenades. In another classroom, the same story, and the same brave response. All in all, 6 students lose their life, and 20 wounded, rather than betray their friends and classmates. I wonder what impact the selfless act of students had on the rebels, deep down inside?
Peace starts within
This incident highlights the deeply spiritual aspect to peace – for it involves the necessity to love and forgive at some point in order to break the spiraling cycle of evil, hate, revenge, guilt and shame.
The path to peace is not in what I do, but in what I believe; that affects what and how I do things. ”The transformation that we should seek should not only be the transformation of our society, but also the transformation of our spirit because the inner transformation inspires the outer work…there is an intimate connection between our inner state and what we do in our outer spheres. This consistency is the foundation of being a fully integrated person.” (Peace Education: A Pathway to a Culture of Peace, by Centre for Peace Education)
”The fundamental principle of peace is a belief that each person is important,” notes Jean Vanier in his book, Living Gently in a Violent World. “The vision of Jesus was extraordinary… he entered into this world to love people as they are…saying to each one, “You are important. You are precious…There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that ’the other’ is important.”
Nyange in November
When we stumbled across the story of Chantal and her classmates, we knew we had found the perfect location to hold our first youth peace camp this November. It will be in Nyange, at a school just a few miles away from the original site. We will also have one of the school survivors on hand to share their story. We will learn about conflict transformation, share personal stories, and even plant a peace garden for a lasting memorium.
Join us. Help encourage and inspire youth who are committed to working for peace in Rwanda. Make a donation today.
Upcoming Special Events in Toronto:
Oct. 2 - Bowl-a-thon
2 – 4 pm, Newton Brook Bowl A Rama, 5837 Yonge St., Toronto
Join New Faith Youth Ministry in their sweet quest to have fun and raise funds to help youth at risk in Rwanda, including those courageously dealing with HIV/AIDS, go to peace camp, an inititiave of a peace of life and AEBR Youth.
Oct. 5 - a peace of life photo exhibit and film night
7:00-9:30 pm., Merchants of Green Coffee, 2 Matilda St., Toronto
Join us for the screening of Munyurangabo, a beautiful film that was also the first feature film to be produced in kinyarwanda (with English subtitles). It presents some of the issues youth face today in peace and reconciliation. Also on hand: gafotozi – photo exhibit from our village workshop last November with youth at risk in Rwanda.
Admission: suggested donation of $5, or pay what you can. We are very grateful for the generous support of Merchants of Green Coffee for providing the space for this event. Our evening will include an opportunity to make a donation for the youth peace camp in Rwanda. For more info, please email email@example.com.
Note: Chantal Mujawamahoro (maiden of peace) truly lived up to her name. You can learn more about her story and what happened at her school in Catherine Larson’s book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. Or check out the short film, “We are all Rwandans”.