The history of the world has painted a rather bleak picture of humanity: a memorial tapestry of suffering. Following the pattern of precedent, the twentieth century weaved: war, after war, after war. In this metaphorical art gallery of civilisation, historical landmarks such as WW1 and WW2 usually monopolise discussions in education and society. The Rwandan genocide is yet another event, although often overlooked, embroidered into our nation’s consciousness. The Jewish Holocaust (1940s) revealed afresh the frailty of the human condition and whilst the world vowed this could never happen again, the nations looked on as Rwanda bore the consequences of a broken promise.
I’m no history teacher, but the facts can speak for themselves: a million people died in 100 days. It’s dangerous to point the blame or suggest a cause for such a complex phenomenon, however, simply put: pre-existing ethnic tensions married with political unrest, culminated in a Tutsi massacre in 1994. The beautiful land of a thousand hills became a nation reeking with the stench of death. Rwanda’s population decreased severely, the economy suffered and any political stability collapsed. Frederick Hendrick, an advocate for Rwanda Civil Platform Society, claims, “Every Rwandan in one way or another has been affected by the legacy of this genocide.”
Let me introduce, friend Moses Mensieur Mukarage. Moses spent the 1994 spring holiday visiting his grandparents when genocide broke out across Rwanda. Thirteen family members gathered there but only three survived the night. Barely seven, Moses walked hand in hand with his kid sister and Grandmother as they fled on foot from one country to another. At one particular roadblock the young boy watched on as those in front of him were slaughtered, before he himself was thrown into a pit of dead bodies “with warm fresh blood”. Moses’ life was only spared due to his devoted Grandmother’s unrelenting cursing and cries for mercy. Their escape involved: a lengthy journey, on foot, through a forest and then hiding under the benches of a canoe boat to cross over to the DRC (Congo) border. Against all odds Moses’ mother managed to find her children, however they arrived back home in Rwanda in October ’94 to find Moses’ brother’s 17-year-old body without a head.
Not only did the genocide take the lives of Moses’ loved ones, he claims, “It took a life from me.”
There are literally millions of stories like this one. As the death toll rose, the list of orphans and widows simultaneously escalated. Examples of the ‘fortunate’ ones that escaped murder include: children left without parents, forced to forfeit an education to financially support fractured families, victims suffering with life altering injuries or psychological issues and perpetrators and their families dealing with horrendous guilt and persecution. Every Rwandan has a personal story of suffering.
To commemorate the 20th year since the genocide, memorial events were held across Rwanda. Guests came from Africa and the rest of the world to pay respects. Although the country is still dealing with remaining long-term effects, life has improved considerably for Rwandans over the past two decades, as different schemes, programmes and charities have sought to build reconciliation and tackle issues such as poverty. Through radical forgiveness and the blessing of time, many Rwandans have been able to move on. Whilst still grieving for the past, Frederick Hendrick claims that Rwandans are now focused on pursuing a better future ensuring that what happened “never again becomes a reality.”
Remember Moses? He is now the founder and legal representative of a non-profit organization called Umubyeyi Community Foundation (UCF), which started early 2012. Moses’ heart for poverty derives from his personal experience; in his own words he explains, “I wanted to intervene and help children that are undergoing similar situations.” Moses represents many unsung heroes across Rwanda, selflessly working to build a better nation. UCF’s mission is to reach the most vulnerable children in Rwanda and support their health, education and livelihood. UCF are currently setting up a new nutrition venture.
Read more about UCF at: www.facebook.com/UmubyeyiCommunityFoundation