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On the 25th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, Celebrate Peace

It's 25 years since the beginning of the 100 day massacre that left one million Rwandans dead. At the time, I watched helpless and horrified from my home in distant Canada. Today, I am writing this overlooking Rwanda's beautiful hills from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Rwandan genocide is what first inspired me to become a peace blogger. The genocide struck me deeply, and when I met a Rwandan filmmaker who was building cross-cultural understanding between Canadian and Rwandan youth through film, I realised that a pen and a camera were potent instruments for peace. Since then, I have traveled to over twenty countries, recording first-person stories that open our hearts a little bit wider towards each other, and therefore peace. It is very special to come "home" to Rwanda on this milestone anniversary.

There were no signs of the former conflict as I walked the hills of Gisenyi last weekend. On the contrary, the exuberant voices of a church choir awakened me on Saturday morning. When I went to investigate, twenty-five children were intently watching the young choir director. When he noticed me, he led the Nubuyesuya Za chorale in a joyful song, accompanied by their ten-year old drummer. Cries of joy rather than cries of pain echoed through the church.

Upon taking my leave, I descended the hill towards the shore of Lake Kivu. Similar youthful optimism shined through the smiles of three boys who spontaneously gave me the peace sign on the path. Women sat in the local market behind tables and tarps covered with fresh vegetables, sugar cane, and tiny sambaza fish, freshly caught from the lake. Goats munched on cabbage leaves before being shooed away by the seller.

Continuing towards the river, a man came to meet me, offering me a boat tour of the lake. Dissuaded by the dark clouds, instead Moses joined me as I continued my exploration of the shoreline on foot. Anchored beside his large passenger vessel were dozens of long, narrow fishing boats. Poles connected three parallel boats together, about 10 feet apart. In a mixture of English and French, Moses explained the fishermen's lifestyle to me. The formation allowed them to hang nets between their boats and catch small silver sambaza each night. Passing a man who was cooking beans over a three-stone fire, Moses explained that the fishermen lived on their boats and cooked on the shore. Curious, I asked if they married and raised families on board the tiny vessels. "Yes," Moses answered, "he has two children." They didn't go to school because he couldn't afford the 18,000 franc fee per child per semester. I worried how they would manage during the rainy season, which could unleash sudden, violent storms. A tiny makeshift tent over some benches across the hull appeared to be their only shelter.

Three children were knee-high in the water, holding thin bamboo poles tied with fishing lines. One of the poles bent tautly, and a little boy pulled up a sambaza. I asked if I could take a picture, and he posed as proudly as my cousin catching a twelve-pounder. 

No, there weren't any signs of the genocide in Gisenyi last weekend. Most of the people I met were too young to have been alive in 1994. But as I returned home on the back of a motorcycle at night, watching hundreds of people walking down the dirt road in groups of 2, 3, or 6, I remembered the days when people fled from groups of neighbours who had become killers, inflamed by past conflict and colonial divisions. My heart is heavy as I recall the stories, tears, and commemoration services of years gone by. I know Rwandans around the world are mourning that dark time in their history this month, and the innocence or relatives they lost during that time. One of my dear friends, Julienne, lost 26 family members, and miraculously found her husband and children safe when she returned to rescue them during the heart of the madness.

I would like to share the commemorative poem I wrote to mourn those lost during that terrible time, and great remorse for the abandonment of the west when Rwanda needed us most. You were not completely forgotten, Rwanda. We remember you still.

I added a new verse to the poem five years ago, which celebrates the dawn of a new era in Rwanda — one that ignores the distinction of tribe and celebrates the reconciliation that has been achieved since then. As two Rwandan sisters told me recently, more remains to be done, but what has been achieved so far gives us hope for a deep and lasting peace.

 

 

Cry

 

Cry for peace, Rwanda

Let justice flow down like rivers

And peace like everlasting streams

 

 

We will never forget the lost ones, the lost years
 

But we will never be enslaved to them again

 

 

Proclaim it aloud –

all are equal

 

Sisters and brothers in one family

Let every life be precious

Let every one be loved

 

 

May you know that you are priceless

 

May you grow into an abundance of love

 

 

 
 
 
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