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Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population, and in the spring and summer of 1994 a program of massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda…Rwandans speak of a million deaths, and they may be right…

Philip Gourevitch – We Wish To Inform You That Tommorow We Will Be Killed With Our Families

Rwanda tries to recover after the 1994 Genocide that left up to 800,000 people killed and tens of thosands of orphans

I tried to get up but it was in vain. I was very weak from my injuries and there were so many bodies around that I could hardly move.

 

A few children, perhaps unaware of the dangers stood up. I called one of the children to help me. she was a girl of about nine. She replied she couldn’t help me because they had cut off her arms.

 

I struggled and managed to sit up, but I couldn’t get up on my feet. I saw a woman I knew, a neighbour, and I called to her. At first she did not answer. I shouted again and she finally responded. When I looked closely I saw that she too had her arms cut off.

 

By now I don’t know if what I’m feeling and seeing is real life or a nightmare. I ask her if I am dreaming.

 

She confirmed it was real.

13 year old Rwandan Girls testimony (Rwanda: Death, Despair, and Defiance – African Rights)

We fled here thinking we would be safe. We thought the UN soldiers stationed here would protect us. But they never did, they abandoned us and we were slaughtered.

Placide stands in the largest room that hangs the blood stain clothes of the Genocide victims. He was one of only four people in the town who survived the massacres at Murambi. After the genocide he and a few others dug up hundreds of bodies from mass graves to give a proper burial to those they could identify. They preserved the other bodies at this former school as a memorial.

In the aftermath of the Genocide the number of families headed by children under 18 was believed to be 60,000, representing more than 200,000 children. Children raising children because all the adults in their lives were dead.

I look after my younger brother while my sister goes out to find some food. We are surviving on a few crops left behind by our mother but they are running out.

Roseen (aged 8) feeds her younger brother Alfronsen (aged 2). Their father was killed in the Genocide. Their mother died of AIDS the month before leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Rwanda - Child and Grandparent headed households struggle after Genocide and AIDS

The extended African family traditionally cared for orphaned children but the scale of the Genocide crippled this support system. Poor, frail elderly grandmothers struggled to look after their orphaned grandchildren.

We have nothing left.
They destroyed everything.
Our family, our home, our livestock.
I should be providing for them.
But I’m old and blind and
my time on this earth is running out.

Costasie – 72 year old grandmother caring for her 4 orphaned grandchildren

Miniature Virgin Mary statue at the doorway of Ntarama Church mass grave memorial site

We did not survive to exist in the ashes.
We live to love and to provide for our children.

Pascal – aged 15 caring for his younger brother and sister

I first travelled to Rwanda in October 2001, a few weeks after 9/11 and impending war in Afghanistan. This was my first trip to Africa and Rwanda was spectacular to behold. The country was stunningly beautiful, green, hilly and intensely cultivated with far reaching views. On the surface it was peaceful and tranquil – but this was the calm after the storm as this small Central African Republic had just experienced that worst humanity has to offer in a genocide that killed over 800,000 people in 1994.

All across the country there was great sadness and extreme poverty. Genocide sites littered the country as a means to remind the world what had happened there. Tens of thousands of orphaned children struggled to survive alone or in child headed households: children looking after children because all the adults in their lives were dead. On my second trip in December 2002, the war in Afghanistan was old news and a war in Iraq was being planned. On return to some of the Genocide sites I wondered if anyone would ever take notice of rooms full of Rwandan skulls and corpses, was there any place in this ‘new world order’ for Rwanda.

So much has changed since my trips to Rwanda – Afghanistan and Iraq are of a by-gone era; vintage TV news reports. Rwanda is now competing to be the new ‘African Success Story’ and much of the country has been transformed for the better, but its deep scars will never heal.

21 years on from the Rwandan Genocide and the world seem’s more chaotic and dangerous it seems than it ever was. There are genocides happening now on a monthly basis – some given passing media attention and some not. Syria has been burning for 4 years now and the idea of stopping the conflict and killing has become too complex to even think or care about by Western leaders. The cry of Never Again was supposed to be the lesson learned from the Holocaust that would stop the Genocide in Rwanda. But it was a flawed expression that never saved Rwanda and its not going to save Syria either.

April 2015

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