Sunday, July 07, 2013

Service Learning in Rwanda

Before we start our services in Rwanda, we went to visit a number of memorial sites for the genocide, to better understand Rwanda.  There are many such sites all over Rwanda.  We went to two churches about an hour south of Kigali.  When the killings of the Tutsi started in 1994, many people fled to Catholic churches, traditionally safe havens, and the churches did open their doors to them.  Unfortunately, the churches could not protect them this time.  At the two churches that we visited, the thousands of people hiding inside locked the doors. The attackers threw petrol bombs and grenades, and broke through gates, doors, and walls.  Thousands of people were killed at some of these churches.  The death toll was estimated at 800,000 over 3 months, out of a population of ~8 million.

Other than the many preserved sites of killing all over the country, the government buried many of the dead in a mass grave in Kigali, and built a memorial museum next to it.  It presented the background, the history, the acts of killing, torturing, and many other acts of absolute horror, the faces of many of victims - including many children, the shameful (lack of) international attention and response to the genocide.  The United Nations actually withdrew peace keeping troops from Rwanda when it was obvious what the attackers were doing.

I was made aware of that this was a planned event, many years in the making.  It was not a terrible event incited by accidents.  For years, theorists had been developing and promoting ideas that the Tutsi were bad people, not even human in fact.  Lists of targets had been made up, and plans for their capture and murder were ready when they decided to launch the genocide.

This is not just an isolated act of evil.  Just in the recent past, similarly horrible evil had been perpetuated in Turkish Armenia, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Nanjing, China, during the Second World War, Communist China, Communist Cambodia, former Yugoslavia, and many other places.  Such is the depravity that we human beings are capable of.  Fortunately for us human beings,  there is also hope.  There were many acts of courage during the genocide.  The country has been recovering quickly, and the emphasis now is not retaliation but reconciliation.  Many people come to visit these memorials, bringing flowers.  I laid a rose.

The current government is quite effective, corruption is low, the country is amazingly clean, and the people are friendly. We hope to learn a lot from the people and make a lot of friends in these 2 weeks.


YTSL said...

Very interesting to read your thoughts re Rwanda today.

When I was in graduate school, I was friends with someone whose specialist area was Rwanda. Through him, I learnt more about Rwanda than the average person.

Later, I also read anthropologist Lisa H. Malkii's "Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania" and also viewed the film "Hotel Rwanda" which made me weep buckets. Are you familiar with either of those works?

StephenC said...

I haven't read Lisa Malkii. We saw "Hotel Rwanda" as preparation for this project. I was aware of the 1994 genocide when it happened, and I tried to understand in parallel and contrast to the Killing Fields of Cambodia and other similar evils. But I cannot claim to be expert on Rwanda.

Since landing here, I have tried to talk to anyone willing to talk to me. Part of my natural curiosity. And partly an effort to understand people - particularly why people behave the way they do.