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What we learned from reconciliation in Rwanda

Twenty-five years on from the Rwandan genocide, three students share their experiences of visiting a country that has managed to rebuild itself

“We were all extremely nervous getting off the plane in Kigali in Rwanda. We were as prepared as a group of teenagers could be: we had viewed and discussed Hotel Rwanda, Kinyarwanda and Shake Hands with the Devil; we had read We Survived.

“But we knew that nothing could really prepare us for what we were about to experience: the aftermath of a modern and contemporary genocide, which had taken place on the continent where we go to school,” say Carolyn Asante-Dartey, Amanda Dzwair and Tom Lewy, Diploma Programme (DP) students from Lincoln Community School, Accra, Ghana.

Here the three students write movingly about The Rwanda Project trip they went on with their school Human Rights Club. They reflect on how the country has tackled the sociopolitical reconciliation process after the horrors of genocide in 1994, when Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 people.

A moment of reflection near the mass graves of Ntrama Church

Carolyn’s experience: The importance of empathy and sharing pain

Kigali: The city of a thousand hills. Such a beautiful, impeccable, city with a horrifying story in its history. Upon arriving in Kigali, I was struck by how clean the city was and how friendly the people were.

One experience from that journey that will forever stick with me was the visit to Ntarama Church, where about 5,000 people were murdered. We walked into the church and the clothes of the people were still there, on the benches, stained with their blood and mud. Being so close to their belongings, to their struggle for their lives, brought a cloud of deep sorrow over me. I just could not understand how other people could be so cruel as to inflict such pain on their own people.

From this, I realized how dangerous hate and the disregard for human rights could be. But another important lesson I learned was the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. For ‘never again’ to truly be never again, then we all have to remember that upholding human rights and fighting human injustices should be our top priority.

Amanda’s experience: The importance of sharing and challenging narratives

My personal experience in Rwanda was that of many emotions, emotions that led me to a place where I felt literally and figuratively heavy-hearted. The popular expression ‘a weight lifted off my shoulders’ worked the opposite way after my experiences in Rwanda. I felt a heavy burden on my shoulders to share what I had been exposed to. I felt it’s now my duty to spread awareness; least we forgive but never forget.

As a team we came back from Rwanda and shared our narratives through a number of platforms to the Lincoln Community School student and parent body. We had an opportunity to each select an image that we held near and dear to our hearts and give a brief overview of what it represented to us in a community assembly.

The image I chose represents the senseless and horrific violence that was aimed at the Belgian Peacekeepers who lost their lives protecting that of the Rwandans in Kigali.

At Camp Kigali Military Base 10 Belgian UN Peacekeepers were executed on 7 April 1994

Tom’s experience: never again

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘never again’, but the phrase has proven to mean never again to the same people in the same way. It’s hard to imagine that the horrors that took place in Rwanda happened just 25 years ago. This resonated with me. I’ve visited the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Human Rights Club, but the genocides and wars that we usually learn about are those that happened so long ago that they seem disconnected from modern views.

Being able to stand in the locations where this genocide occurred and looking around at the functioning society showed me the importance of reconciliation. The Rwanda Project not only made me an advocate for greater awareness of the events that happened in Rwanda, but also an advocate for educating others that acts of genocide are still happening today and we cannot turn a blind eye.

One of the most powerful parts of the trip was going to the reconciliation village and listening to the testimonies of both a perpetrator and a victim. As they were talking, I had mixed emotions because they both went through a lot in their life, but now they are able to live together.

A survivor tells her story at the Reconciliation Village

I believe that it takes a lot of strength that I am not sure I could ever have. Somehow a society that was divided not so long ago is now a united and functioning society, which has managed to forgive each other.

We are sharing our impressions with you so that you go and see for yourself the progress Rwanda is making, in order to make true ‘never again’.