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Listening to Their Narrative Helped to Shape and Change our Own

By Carolyn Asante-Dartey, Amanda Dzwairo, & Tom Lewy
Listening to Their Narrative  Helped to Shape and Change our Own

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. Many of us had visited significant holocaust sites on our Human Rights Club trip the previous year to Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Auschwitz, and Birkenau. We had researched the genocide, the role of Radio Mille Collines, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame, UNAMIR, and Operation Turquoise. We had discussed and debated the role of German and Belgian colonization on the attitudes of the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.
Yet we were all extremely nervous getting off the plane in Kigali. We knew that nothing could really prepare us for what we were about to experience: a modern and contemporary genocide on the same continent where we attend school.
Anyone over the age of 24 had survived the genocide; anyone over the age of 38 would likely have been involved, possibly as a genocidaire.
These are some of our experiences and reflections.
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. The Rwanda Project was a journey I took with a cohort of nine peers from the Human Rights Club and three facilitators to discover more about the Rwandan Genocide that occurred in 1994. Upon arriving in Kigali, I was struck by how clean the city was and how friendly the people were.
The hardest thought for me to digest was the fact that every person we came across who was above the age of 24 experienced this traumatic event and either were themselves or had relatives who were perpetrators, victims, or survivors of the genocide. For instance, our tour guide, Chris, told us that his mother and sister were brutally murdered during the genocide. I was amazed by the fact that even though this historic event brought him such pain, he still worked as an educator of the genocide, talking about the event every day of his life.
One experience from that journey that will forever stick with me was the visit to the 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 in the church, stained with their blood and mud. Being so close to their belongings, to their struggle for their lives, brought a cloud of deep sorrow on me. I just could not understand how other people could be so cruel as to inflict such pain on their own people. In the Sunday School, we saw a wall with a huge blood stain, and we were told that the perpetrators smashed the babies and the children against the wall to kill them. Needless to say, the experience left me speechless and astounded.
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 mean never again, 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 & challenging narratives
My personal experience in Rwanda was that of managing many emotions—emotions that led me to a place where I felt literally and figuratively heavy-hearted. It was the exact reverse of the popular expression “a weight lifted off my shoulders,” as my experiences in Rwanda left a heavy burden on my shoulders and a sense that I now held the responsibility to tell others about what I had seen and heard.
Following our Rwanda trip, I committed to bearing witness; it is now my duty to spread awareness, that we forgive but never forget. As a team, we came back from Rwanda and shared our narratives through a number of platforms with the Lincoln Community School (LCS) 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. This image, above, represents the senseless and horrific violence that was aimed at the Belgian Peacekeepers who lost their lives protecting those of the Rwandans in Kigali.
Tom’s experience: never again
It’s hard to imagine that the horrors that took place in Rwanda happened less than 25 years ago. Which is to say that, for some of you, it happened in your lifetime; for others, it was in that of your parents. This resonated with me. I’ve visited the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau with the Human Rights Club, and usually the genocides and wars that we learn about are those that happened so long ago they seem disconnected from modern views. But these act of genocide are still occurring today.
Being able to stand in the locations where this genocide occurred and look 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 that country, but also pushed me to commit to educating others about the fact 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. Both went through a lot in their lives, but both are now able to live together. I believe that reconciliation of this sort takes a degree of strength I’m not sure I could ever have. Somehow a society that was divided not so long ago is now a united and functioning community whose members have managed to forgive each other.
We are sharing our impressions so that you’ll go and see for yourself the progress Rwanda is making. “Never again” must not be just an empty statement but a reality.
Carolyn Asante-Dartey, Amanda Dzwairo, & Tom Lewy are members of Lincoln Community School Accra’s class of 2019.

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