Photo credit: Refugees made makeshift crosses to honor those who died in the Benaco Refugee Camp. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post). Originally posted as part of 11 Powerful Images from the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
Twenty years ago this month, the normal lives of Rwandans were uprooted. The love between neighbors and families that once created bridges between ethnic groups was replaced by fear, terror, and bloody deaths. It was a calculated massacre of the Tutsi ethnic group. A genocide organized by a small group of people in power and carried out by everyday citizens who were told if they didn’t join in the killing, they would be killed. The radio, once used to connect Rwandans, was used to disseminate the names of those who should be targeted. Neighbors took up machetes and family members killed one another. It was a horrific 100 days in which 800,000 to a million people died.
Last night I had the privilege of listening to two Rwandan survivors as part of Living Ubuntu’s Six Commemorative Film Series for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Their words struck deeply in my heart and it was hard to hold back the tears.
“I only have half a family,” Delly began her story. She shared with us her feelings of fear and rejection she lived with even before the violence broke out. “Many thought being a Tutsi was being less of a human.”
As she finished her story of survival, Delly noted, “What happened in 1994 showed me how low humanity can go. But it also showed me how people can help. They hid us. They were Hutu and they knew if they got caught all their family would be killed. They knew the risk. So, now I’ve also seen the best of humanity.”
To find hope and faith in a place whose rivers ran with the blood of your relatives takes courage and a tremendous amount of energy. It is for the victims and survivors of Rwanda — and Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Guatemala, and so many other places were genocide has occurred — that we must be courageous enough to honor and act. It is not easy to consciously open your heart to something that is painful; to listen to the stories of death and destruction. But in order to ensure that we do all we can to stop ethnic cleansing, genocide, and mass atrocities, we must open our hearts, however painful it might be. This will help lead us to mindful action.
Changing the way the world responds to genocide might seem unfathomable, but so did ending slavery. This month, Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, open your heart, learn, and follow where it takes you.
For great resources, actions, and events, check out the Carl Wilkens Fellowship Act and Events Page.