As I perused through the final exhibits at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, I could not help but question the tragic events that took place in 1994 between April and July. After reading through almost thirty separate exhibits describing the genocide, tears had begun to stream down my cheeks. Sure, I had read stories and books depicting and illuminating the atrocities of those 100 days; yet, I had never been so close to videos, stories, and the country itself. I never had the opportunity to read about the genocide, walk outside, and look at the faces of people who live through it daily. What is more, I had never spent days in Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a space for orphans. I had never been asked “Do you have parents?” as if it was uncommon. No one had ever questioned whether I had a brother or sister in a way that did not come merely in the form of a curiosity; rather, there was a longing in the voices of these children. I had never seen a teenage girl explain to me with a faint smile that both her parents, two brothers, and three sisters were all killed during the genocide. How is she to react? The smile in no way conveyed any sense of happiness or joy. Instead, it was a smile of questioning. A smile that asked how in the world could this happen? Are we not all human? It was not a question of human rights. No. It was a question of human nature. It was a question of love. Are humans not called to love? Can we not all simply try (and in many ways succeed) to have love for everyone in our lives…the same love that we have for our family members? That was her question as she explained that she had lost her family, as she explained that they had been killed.
But her story did not end there. She truly understood what it meant to have a loving family outside of the biological blood that connects many of us. She found her family in her fellow youth at Agahozo. She found her family in me, and she called me her brother. I was honored.
I cannot count the number of times I have simply looked at a teenager here, smiled, and received the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. At family time (a time where each household comprised of about 15 students comes together to discuss household and communal issues), I glanced at one child. Every time our gazes met, smiles protruded from our faces. Love was clear.
As I listened to the conversation between the household members, I was incredibly inspired by their understanding of the importance of respect and love in ones lives. To see young high schoolers, who have seen the purest of hate in their lives, not only understand love’s importance, but also seek it was yet another inspiration. It was truly beautiful.
I am going to go to sleep now…because I want to make breakfast tomorrow morning and also have energy throughout the day. I will try to expand on some of these ideas soon enough.
We had a discussion (that we will continue) as a group tonight about our experience at the memorial. We touched on everything from facts and humanitarian intervention to the efficacy of NGOs and our role in the world. I will definitely write more about this when I can.
Again, thanks for listening.
P.S. I will continue to try to upload some pictures, but the connection is faulty when it comes to uploading. Check out the group blog at http://reachoutrwanda.wordpress.com for a few.