As our trip comes to an end, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on all that we learned throughout our two brief days in Rwanda. Though tragic, and at some points emotionally draining, I feel I speak for all of us when I say that Rwanda was a truly life altering experience.
Our first day in Kigali we traveled to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. This memorial serves as both a genocide museum and the final resting place for thousands of genocide victims. The hours we had spent studying the genocide could not have prepared me for what we were shown throughout the museums many displays.
To see first hand the clothing, pictures, and remains of real victims was an experience I feel no amount of research could have prepared me for. The displays went into great detail about the long standing tension between ethnic groups within Rwanda, and showed in immense detail the true horror of the genocide.
The hardest part of this experience for myself, was being able to put faces and stories to the many numbers and statistics we had learned in class. We can often be desensitized to tragedy, and visiting this memorial made the pain of the genocide very real. While it was a deeply saddening experience, the predominant feeling I was left with was hope.
Hearing about the thousands of survivors that chose to forgive their attackers was incredibly moving and inspiring. The final film we viewed at the memorial showed two genocide survivors who met at a support group and fell in love. Their ability to speak so candidly about their experiences was something I greatly admire and the message I got from that video is one I will never forget.
The survivors spoke about their belief that every human being possesses both good and bad, hatred and evil, and it is our choice which of these emotions we fuel. He said we must cultivate love, and teach others to do the same. To hear a survivor who lost his family in the genocide speak from a place of love instead of anger, showed me the incredible courage of the genocide survivors. While visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial was an incredibly heart breaking experience, it also demonstrated to me the resilience of the human spirit when faced with tragedy and loss.
Later in the day we visited the Hotel Des Mille Collines, otherwise known as Hotel Rwanda. Visiting such a nice hotel filled with happy tourists and families made it hard to imagine that the genocide took place a mere 22 years ago. While the history surrounding Hotel Rwanda is often confused and misguided by its inaccurate portrayal in the hollywood film, no one can deny the importance of this land mark – that is a world recognized symbol of the genocide.
After our visit to Hotel Des Mille Collines we returned to our own hotel for dinner. That evening we watched a film entitled "Sometimes in April" about the genocide. This film gave us great perspective on the many different views of those involved in the genocide. It showed us the views of the Tutsi, Hutus, moderate Hutus and also the role of foreign aid.
While our first day in Rwanda was incredibly emotional, it was for me one of the most important days during the trip because it showed me first hand the strength of hatred, love, empathy and forgiveness and the role that those emotions play in development. The stories I heard, images I saw, and messages portrayed will never be forgotten.
Our final day of the trip was another very emotion filled day for a variety of different reasons. In the morning we visited the Nyamata Church Memorial which is a resting place for victims and a fully intact memorial that shows the true brutality of what happened just over two decades ago. The church has been altered very little since the genocide, and the reality of what happened there can be remembered in great detail.
Thousands of articles of clothing from victims remain untouched inside the church walls. Even more upsetting, blood and bullet holes can still be seen on many surfaces of the church's walls and ceilings. I know for myself personally, seeing this site was incredibly hard to process and I found myself feeling as if it couldn't be real. In the outside of the church we were invited to see two mass graves for the church's victims which was a deeply upsetting experience.
The two graves we saw at Nyamata is the resting place of nearly 45,000 people. The feelings of pain and sadness I experienced when walking through one of the graves is not a feeling I will ever forget. I know that many of my fellow classmates were incredibly upset and uncomfortable by this site, and it was a very challenging place to visit. Despite the intensity of the emotions we felt, I think visiting and supporting memorials like the is very important to develop a true understanding of what happened in Rwanda twenty two years ago.
Though the Nyamata Church Memorial and Kigali Genocide Memorial were very serious, saddening places, they will not serve as my only idea of what Rwanda is like. Rwanda is a beautiful country, with very proud people. Everywhere we went we were welcomed graciously, and shown nothing but kindness and respect.
For a nation that was a failed state only twenty two years ago, Rwanda and it's people have made incredible strides towards a better future and nation for all. There are of course still many social issues, some involving ethnicity, but a predominant number of Rwandese people choose to be just Rwandan and not divide themselves by ethnicity or any other social factors which I think is very admirable.
Our final days on this trip were emotional, challenging and often very serious, but my final memories of my time here were still ones of joy. I can truly say that Uganda and Rwanda are two of the most incredible countries I have ever been to, and I consider myself lucky to have had the amazing opportunity to visit them with such an organization as wonderful as Insight. Though it may sound cliché, our visit to Uganda and Rwanda really was the trip of a lifetime.
Violet Bullock, West Vancouver Secondary School
Photos by Ghazal Habib, Insight Program Director