In January 2009, I walked through the Kigali Memorial Centre for the first time. I spent a few hours walking through each section, reading captions under solemn images and trying to imagine the horror that took place across Rwanda in 1994.
The last section of the museum that I walked through was a memorial dedicated to the children of Rwanda who never lived to see peace in their country. It was heart wrenching. And it drove home the human cost, devastation, and despair of the 1994 genocide.
But as I walked onto a balcony just off the children’s memorial section, the word “despair” simply didn’t fit. Instead, I saw a bustling city – with people raising new buildings in the distance. I couldn’t help think that by raising those buildings, they were rebuilding their lives, their communities, and the entire country. Instead of despair, I saw hope.
When I talk to people today, that’s how I describe Rwanda. In one word: Hope. I am constantly impressed with Rwandans ability to remember the past while forging a new future. It doesn’t come easy. It takes dedication and hard work. And most of all, it takes leaders – civic leaders and advocates operating at all levels, not just in the new government, but in communities and non-governmental organizations that have popped up around the country.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be uploading a series of short blog posts that focus on the leaders and advocates that I’ve come across in Rwanda and from around the world who are working every day to improve the lives of Rwandans today and in the future. I’ll start with a look at two friends I made in Rwanda who have dedicated themselves to educating and taking care of the children who will one day run Rwanda.
Educating and Caring for Children
Just days after I visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, my friend Denis took me to visit a school run by Cyapepe, a non-government organization dedicated to educational opportunities that he started with his friend Mzee. I toured the classes, filmed a video of the children’s presentation, and had the opportunity to donate some books and supplies that I had brought from the US.
Once again, I was struck by the hope – this time combined with pride and enthusiasm – that I witnessed at the school. The conditions were meager, but the work Denis and the staff at the school are doing is meaningful. Through their efforts, they are reaching students who might otherwise not be able to attend school or receive an education – shaping not only those students’ lives, but also the future of their country in the process.
My friend Julius has a similar story of civic leadership and success helping children. He worked for Never Again Rwanda, which works with Rwandan children as well as researchers to generate ideas and activities that lead to sustainable peace. And he currently works as a project coordinator for Save the Children-UK Rwanda Programme.
Julius is also the founder and president of Help Life Rwanda, a non-governmental organization that works with orphans and widows to improve their lives and the socio-economic standing of vulnerable Rwandans. Much like Denis’ work, Julius’ work reaches out to people who might otherwise have little opportunity or hope. But through the efforts of individuals like Denis and Julius – and so many others across the country – Rwanda’s future generations have a helping hand.
These are just a few examples of everyday actions taking place across Rwanda. While visitors to the country may not see them, they feel the difference they make, as they walk the streets amid a sense of hope rather than despair.