Our Peacemaker Institute staff attended the opening ceremonies of the National Week of Commemoration and Mourning, honoring the victims and survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. The four of us were seated in the VIP section just five rows behind the President of Rwanda, at Amahoro (Peace) Stadium, the national stadium, which was packed, standing room only, with about 50,000 people. We were sitting among high government officials, diplomats and visiting dignitaries. As volunteers with a small peacemaking NGO, we felt a bit out of place, but there we were. I sat next to the Deputy General of the National Bank of Rwanda. We had a great conversation about how to leverage our peace building efforts in Rwanda for the greatest positive impact.
The ceremonies were very powerful and moving. There were songs and theatrical presentations by leading Rwandan artists and stirring speeches, including a very powerful speech by President Paul Kagame.
Throughout the ceremonies and the president’s speech, we could hear the crying and wailing of traumatized survivors, many breaking down during the ceremonies in this, April 7th, the day the 100 days of genocidal horror began in 1994, 17 years ago.
Toward the end of his speech, the president encouraged everyone to take care of and support the many traumatized survivors who have a particular difficult time during the mourning period and anniversary of the genocide where so many witnessed and experience unspeakable horrors and often the brutal slaughter of their own family members.
Our 2nd Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat begins tomorrow afternoon with 18 international participants and 35 Rwandan participants, leaders and senior staff from more than twenty Rwanda NGO’s and government agencies involved in genocide prevention and unity and reconciliation work here, who have joined the bearing witness and peace building coalition organized by the Peacemaker Institute and our principal Rwandan partner, Memos: Learning from History.
We held a press conference this afternoon for the Rwandan print, radio and television media. The press conference was the lead story on the evening news of the national Rwandan television channel. So at this point, the whole country knows we are here.