Monday, May 12, 2008

Genocide: Remembering and Reconciling 14 Years Later

After attending a beautiful church service, we were invited to attend the district's annual genocide memorial service. Each year the government designates a week dedicated to remembrance of the over 1 million killed in the 1994 genocide. Though the country has a week off of work, most people spend this time in quiet reflection around their homes. At the end of the week, all of the local towns gather for a public memorial service.

We walked nearly an hour to the nearest town, which was even more remote than Banda. Inside their local church gathered an overflow crowd of the surrounding villages. At the front of the ceremony was an impressive collection of local clergy from all of the local religions as well as local leaders. Heading the ceremony was a university educated man from Kigali, as part of the government program to lead the discussion.

The ceremony was much more than a remembrance; it was an interactive seminar, a thought-provoking discussion on how to make the post-genocide slogan of "Never Again" a reality. The moderator gave a history of genocide to educate the children who were too young to have lived through it. Then the community contributed to the discussion of the causes of genocidal ideology, and what can be done to move beyond genocide.

The theme throughout the discussion was to "remember and forgive" because "we are all Rwandans". The ceremony came to a powerful close as a young man orphaned by the genocide sung a stirring tribute to his family members who had been killed. This was followed by a woman who gathered a crowd of 7 people in front of her. "Can you tell who here is Tutsi and who is Hutu?" she asked the crown in Kinyarwandan. No one could. Then she asked those who had lost family members killed in the genocide to raise their hands. Four of the seven raised their hands. Next she asked those who had been released from prison after serving time for murder during the genocide. The other three raised their hands. They then stuck out their hands to each other and embraced.

Forgive and remember. I cannot imagine shaking the hand of someone who may have killed my family. But this powerful and effective ceremony demonstrated to me just how much must be done to move beyond genoside and revenge, and the proactive way the government and local communities have been addressing it.

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