My Address during the Friends of Rwanda (FORA) 20th fundraising dinner, at Laguna Town Hall in Elk Grove, California, USA.
I am happy to be here today to talk about young people and post-Genocide reconciliation in my country, Rwanda.
Immediately after the Genocide, people lived with mistrust and communities were fractured. There was limited interaction between survivors’ families and perpetrators’ families. Some even suggested that Rwanda should be divided into two countries. But instead, we chose to stay together. We put aside our differences and made unity our first priority.
Let me share a short story to give you an insight into the Rwanda of today. This story is one among many others that I know and it inspires me every day.
Martin and Jacques are two young boys coming from different family backgrounds. Despite this, they became friends in the first year of high school. One day, Martin asked Jacques to stay at his home: “Your parents live so far away from the school. Come and live with us,” Martin said to Jacques.
When Jacques reached Martin’s home, his parents objected. “Why are you bringing a Tutsi to our house?” Martin’s dad asked.
When Jacques’ family heard the news, they were very angry too. The parents went to see their son and said, “You should not be staying with Hutus”.
Despite pressure from their families, Martin and Jacques said to their parents, “We are brothers. We are friends. Nothing will change that”.
Both families quickly realized how inflexible Martin and Jacques were. They started to wonder” “Why should we try to separate the boys? Why are we dividing our children”? They realized they were wrong; the influence of their children drove them to began working to unite people around them. Today, both families are closer than ever.
This is only one story among thousands where young Rwandans, my peers, have chosen peace, forgiveness, unity and reconciliation. It’s a story that shows strong conviction and determination to change bad behaviors and habits. We call ourselves “Agaciro Generation”. Agaciro means “dignity” and is one of our national values. Today, we no longer define ourselves by outdated and inaccurate concepts of ethnicity. Today, we are Rwandans.
In so many ways, as Rwandans, we are shaped by our past but we can’t allow ourselves to be defined by it. Remembering what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is important for my generation. Young people must learn from the past in order to build a brighter future.
Sixty per cent of Rwandans are made of young people. We are an important force with a huge role to play in post reconstruction activities. But we need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to be active citizens and peace builders.
There are a number of incredible organisations in Rwanda working with young people to help them become champions for humanity in their communities.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial is part of them. It is not only the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide; it is also a home for survivors, a place where they can come to pay respect to the victims, remember and try to heal. It is also a place for education for all.
It is a place that drives community conversations about the past, peace and reconciliation. With this in mind, the memorial, which is run by Aegis Trust, hosts a peacebuilding programme that works with community leaders, teachers and students to equip and empower young people with the values and skills to be change makers and peacemakers in their own communities.
Across the country, many other peace building initiatives are being led by my peers. Never Again Rwanda, the association of student survivors of the genocide GAERG and AERG, iDebate and Peace and Love Proclaimers are bringing communities together, driving social transformation by encouraging critical thinking and teaching about genocide and mass atrocity prevention.
I believe the values of empathy, compassion and forgiveness can be taught – and they are the foundation of a new, unconventional generation that is rebuilding Rwanda as I speak. Young people, like you and me, are at the forefront of this effort by helping to share these values with communities across the country.
Rebuilding Rwanda is not easy and it will not be perfect, but Martin and Jacques have shown us that it is possible.