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Rwanda remembers

How private groups and government try to heal the wounds of genocide

The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda (Photo by Renato Granieri / Alamy)
The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda
(Photo by Renato Granieri / Alamy)

By Noam Shuster-Eliasi

In Rwanda, every corner hides a memory; in the land of a thousand hills, the memories tell of incredible forgiveness, of stories that unite and heal and encourage all Rwandans to hope.

There’s plenty of hope and forgiveness in the clinic of Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment (WE-ACTx for Hope) founded in 2013 by a group of Rwandan health care providers to assist children and youth living with HIV. Supported by the government and local philanthropists, WE-ACTx for Hope founders were inspired by an international community-based HIV/AIDS initiative (also called WE-ACTx) founded in 2003 by a group of frontline AIDS physicians, activists and researchers following appeals for AIDS medications and treatment by genocide survivors.

Two clinics in Kigali run by the local WE-ACTx’s offer free medical and psychosocial services to more than 2,250 HIV positive patients. Besides treatment, health education and research, the clinics organise a summer camp for 600 youths and children where they learn music, theatre, and how to live healthy with HIV. The camp also serves as an avenue for “peer parents” [older youths] to advise the younger ones to avoid conflict.

Janet (not her real name), a 17-year old peer parent at the clinic, was distraught when she discovered that she was HIV positive. But today, she goes to the clinic once a week to teach music to a younger group. “We suddenly found out we are not alone, and that many kids face the same problems,” she says. “We are here to teach them that they can be strong and live a healthy life”.

Musicians without Borders, a global network of musicians that are using their talents to heal and reconcile Rwandans, has joined the camp. The group’s motto is: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain,” borrowing the words of late Bob Marley, the legendary Jamaican reggae star.  Musicians without Borders organises regular music workshops for hundreds of children throughout Kigali and surrounding towns and villages. They also provide leadership training for the youths.

It is not only the civil society that making considerably efforts to promote healing among the people, so is the government. In addition to designating 7 April the Genocide Memorial Day, and the week following it as an official week of mourning, the government has also built a Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali that has so far welcomed over 100,000 visitors.

In the centre, many documents show the testimonies of perpetrators and survivors. On display is an image of a killer and his testimony. The man’s face is sad apparently for his crimes. His testimony says that the Hutu government told him and the rest of his Hutu neighbours that Tutsi soldiers were on their way to kill them, so they had to kill all the Tutsis. He explains that Hutu authorities at the time led ordinary people to kill.

School children and teachers, both Tutsi and Hutu, visit this Centre at least twice a year to learn the lesson: “never again,” which is the term the government is using to raise awareness of the horrors of genocide. And to remind everyone that the Rwanda of 1994 is not the Rwanda of 2014. Surely, today’s Rwanda is healing and moving forward.

Originally published in Africa Renewal.

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