2014 is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, and we happened to arrive in the middle of the solemn remembrance period for those who died. We landed just a few days before the last official commemorative event, which honored and remembered the children who were killed in the massive slaughter. There were programs throughout the whole country, but since we are living in the capital city, Notre Dame des Anges participated in the largest event which was held at the national level. The school brought all of the P5 students to march in a parade leading to the stadium, where they joined other primary and secondary students in attendance.
Sr. Anna, our boss, is quite an extraordinary woman and has done great things for this recovering nation. However, I did not fully comprehend the country’s small size, and how well Sr. Anna can get her way until we entered the stadium. Emily, Arron and I entered the stadium shyly and attempted to sit in the back of the stands with the children from our school. However, Sr. Anna would not have this, and immediately sent a brigade of people to come find us and bring us to the front of the audience. So ultimately the three umuzungus paraded to the front of the entire place while three thousand students stared. It wasn’t the best moment of my life, BUT we ended up in the 5th row of the national genocide event! (And to emphasize how small the country is, this event ended up on the national news!)
The ceremony itself was amazing, and included performances of song, dance, spoken poetry, skits, and witnesses. The children who performed spoke with such dignity and composure that they seemed mature far beyond their years. At one point the students in the audience were allowed to ask their questions about the genocide to the assembly. Everything was spoken in Kinyarwanda, but a friendly woman offered to translate for me, and this is what I gathered from the children’s questions:
- What is genocide?
- Now we are in peace. Will it remain that way?
- Why were only the Tutsi killed and not the Hutu?
- If the government did not have a role, would the genocide have happened?
- Would there have been a genocide if there was no colonization?
- And my personal favorite, which received a lot of laughter: The genocide was done against the Tutsi. Where were the Twa (the third ethnic group, comprising 1% of the population) at that time?
Their questions were very heartfelt and I thought they struck to the root of the questions which the adults face. We were lucky to attend such an event to see how they mourn those whom they have lost as well as inform their future generations about necessary improvements. I can see how it is important for this country to reconstruct their society while educating their children about the horrors of genocide to promulgate their new motto, “Never again.”