Day 3 Reflections

Reflections on a very moving day – Saturday 8th July, Kigali, Rwanda.

Following a relaxing day by the pool at our hotel and visiting such welcoming and lovely students from two other interact groups, we were all feeling refreshed. I think it was something we were in need of after a long day of travel.

Today was Mia’s fifteenth birthday and the atmosphere among us was one of positivity and excitement. However, a sense of apprehension was also present as we knew that today would be a tough one for us all. Today was the day that we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. None of us was sure what to expect from the transport but we were pleasantly surprised when a spacious school bus arrived to pick us up. Although you could see the road through a hole in the floor, we each had our own seat; in Uganda, that is luxury travel. We followed windy roads to the Memorial Centre and poor Grace was a bit worse for wear by the end of the journey but soon returned to being her usual, chirpy self.

The mood quickly changed when we were greeted by armed guards at the entrance of the Memorial Centre. We were each frisked and our bags were searched. This presence of violence was a reminder of why we were there. The Memorial Centre is designed to not only be a place to remember those murdered in this horrific event but also aims to educate people so that the same thing never happens again. We started by listening to the stories of survivors. They told harrowing tales of seeing their family being brutally murdered in front of them and being left with no immediate family. What also shocked me was the fact that friends and neighbours turned on each other and nobody knew who to trust. We then went to see where those who were killed have been laid to rest and pay our respects. There was a glass window over some of the graves and we laid a wreath over them; you could see the outline of the coffins through the cloth that was placed over the graves and it really brought home that lives had been lost. It could’ve been someone’s mum, dad, sister, or brother lying there and it made me feel an overwhelming sense of loss and anger.

Following this, we were taught about the history of the genocide. There were three ethnic groups in Rwanda: Hutus, Tutsis and Twas. There had been tension between the Hutus and the Tutsis for many years but this had only started following the colonisation of Rwanda by both France and Belgium. Before this, there had not been much difference between the two groups until they were clearly recognised as very different ethnic groups by those who had colonised them. This was also fuelled by the introduction of identification cards which stated which of these groups people belonged to. Much like Jews in Germany’s Third Reich, Tutsis were painted out to be evil people who wanted money and power through the use of propaganda. Many Hutus resented the Tutsis because they were wealthier than the Hutus. However, the way they were identified didn’t necessarily depend on their ethnic origins as you would be classified as a Tutsi if you owned ten or more cows. You can draw many parallels between the Holocaust in Germany and the Rwandan Genocide. From the use of propaganda to the way people’s trust was betrayed by their nearest and dearest this genocide is eerily similar.

It both upsets and confuses me that this tragedy is something we are never taught about in British schools, especially considering that an estimated one million people were killed in such inhumane ways. Tension had been building for years and the Hutu majority were running the country. The genocide had been planned for a long time and the Hutu militia had been trained in how to murder people with blunt objects and inflict the largest amount of pain on their victims. Not only this, but women were often raped by HIV positive men and mutilated. Disgusting levels of disrespect were placed on their victims and their bodies were disregarded in rivers, shallow graves or just left in pieces on the ground. The Genocide started on the 7th of April and killing continued for one hundred days. It was triggered by the assassination of the president when his plane was shot down in the air space above his house which marked the end of the peace treaty. It deeply saddens me that thousands of people did not get the chance to die peacefully and that their bodies were disregarded as if they were animals. I don’t understand how human beings can act like such savages and kill each other simply because of a label that they have been given. This event is an example of the devastating effect that colonial rule can have on a society years after the colonists have left. It shows how much of an impact not creating proper infrastructure can have and how corrupt a country can become because of this.

Some of the things I saw and read both disgusted and overwhelmed me. There was a room filled with family photos of just some of those murdered; the realisation that they were people, that they were innocent human beings and not just statistics was almost too much to take in. What upset me the most, and the image that has stayed with me, is seeing a tiny waistcoat that must’ve belonged to a child no older than two years old in the personal belongings of people found in a shallow grave. Why did he have to die? Why did an innocent child who wouldn’t even know the difference between Hutus and Tutsis, who viewed everyone as equals, have to be brutally murdered and their body disregarded like they were worthless?

Another story that deeply saddens me was that when people fled to a church for refuge and shelter they were all slaughtered within the church. Their bodies were never recovered and they were simply left there. The doors to the church were shut and never opened again. I can’t comprehend that this happened only twenty years ago and I am ashamed to be part of a world that did nothing to intervene. Surely the UN could’ve done something? What makes the Genocide Memorial so special and such an important place is the fact that they have tried to recover all the bodies of those who died and give them a place to rest peacefully. Not only does this mean that it can serve as a place for those who have lost loved ones to mourn but it gives the victims at least some of the dignity they deserve. I hope that the world can learn from events like this and that together we can work to stop letting our ethnicity, our race, our religion, the colour of our skin divide us. There will always be inequality in society but we must stop blaming specific groups for this.

I was so upset by what I had seen I wasn’t sure if I could continue with the evening's activities but I remembered that those who had lost so much, orphaned children and single parents, had not let this stop them from continuing with their lives so neither should I.

As today was Mia’s birthday, we had a party in the evening. We had organised for a cake to be made and I had brought some balloons to decorate the table. It was a lovely evening of celebration and I hope Mia had a good time. We said goodbye to Tom and Peter this evening as it was our last day in Rwanda. We are not too sure what to expect from Uganda but from what we are told it is very different.