Student Leadership Initiative, Africa

Seven members of SMU’s recently formed Student Leadership Initiative (SLI) are in Rwanda, Uganda and Johannesburg during May 2012. The students are researching human rights issues and empowerment solutions for three African countries recovering from decades of genocide, war, famine, disease and apartheid. Pat Davis, associate director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, is accompanying them on the program.

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Never again: A visit to Rwanda’s genocide memorial

An update from Ketetha, a first-year student majoring in computer science and mathematics:

12:25 p.m.

We just left the memorial. For lack of better words, it was touching. There was a full history of Rwanda – from its people’s colonization to the awful genocide to the aftermath and consequences of the “apocalypse.”

I decided to take the tour alone, and I am glad I did. I am one of those people who has trouble crying in front of others. When it comes to serious moments, I need my quiet time to allow myself to feel and let everything soak in.

It is hard for me to understand exactly why those events had to take place. The museum featured videos of people recollecting how their loved ones were murdered and how they came close to death as well. There were glass cases of various weapons that were used to kill the Tutsis – women and children no exception – during the genocide.

The exhibit that shook me the most was one dedicated to children. If only I could describe the faces of these children. Beautiful, bright eyes. Full heads of hair. Innocent grins. Young children who had yet to even begin their lives. A large picture and an information card was dedicated to each child. The card featured the child’s favorite things (drinks, food, games) and interesting facts about them. Some cards shared the children’s goals, like becoming a doctor, and some featured their last words. One child uttered, “The UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda) will come to save us.”

I gave each child their moment, but it didn’t feel like enough. I felt angry when a group of photographers loudly passed through the room. It isn’t fair. These children’s futures were wiped away because of their identification. No words can explain it, but this must never happen again. Just as propaganda led the Hutus to truly believe the Tutsis needed to be eliminated, the media and propaganda can lead the world to know we should never and can never let a mass murder like the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 happen again.

23:06 p.m.

The memorial continues to provoke thoughts. During dinner, we discussed many important topics that arose throughout the day, including the genocide. Amanda mentioned how many thoughts came later in reflection.

One thing that stuck in my head was when a woman said the majority of people in Rwanda were evil during the genocide. I cannot fathom how people just turned on their neighbors and friends. And this essentially is what happened in all cases. Neighbors and people turning against innocent people who trusted them. It puts into perspective that anyone, with the right fuel, can be capable of murdering another.

I honestly used to believe the world to be this great place of daisies and roses. That naive thought makes it hard to see sites like the Rwanda Genocide Memorial. I am so bothered by the fact that genocide can take place and that there are not enough voices to stop it before it begins.

However, seeing the memorial, especially the growth and current renovation – with all of the guests coming in and out – makes me have hope because people do care. Rwanda is a strong country, I realized today. Even after such a horrifying event, I see strength that I can only admire. Strength I hope to understand someday and learn from. Strength these people are blessed to have.

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    2 Responses to Never again: A visit to Rwanda’s genocide memorial

    1. Denise says:

      This is very moving … thanks for writing …

    2. Ketetha Olengue says:

      Thank you for reading!
      The experience was unforgettable.

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