By: Jenna Lemieux

April 7, 2020, Toronto: “On this day, I wanted to share my thoughts as to why education and commemoration are critical for raising awareness and prevention of the heinous crime of genocide, particularly in Rwanda.  My reflections are from my time working in Rwanda in 2019, when the 25th commemoration of the genocide took place.
Through investments in education and the nation-wide acknowledgement of the importance of remembrance and reconciliation of Tutsi and Hutu communities, the genocide in Rwanda will not be forgotten.

Being able to witness the collective and individual efforts of survivors and perpetrators, and with the support of the Rwandan government, I believe that Rwanda may offer a unique lesson of reconciliation, and therefore commemoration and remembrance – one that is diverse, education-based, and persists throughout generations as an important lesson that the creation of the “us vs. them” national mentality must not happen again.

 Leading up to April 7th, the official day of commemoration of the Genocide in Rwanda, the streets of Kigali were quieter than usual – businesses closed early, noise restrictions were encouraged, planning committees were putting final pieces together, as the whole nation prepared for the remembrance of the genocide which took the lives of up to 1 million people in the short time of nearly 100 days.

Only 26 years after the mass atrocity, much of the population in Rwanda has personal recollection of the events of the genocide. Those who were born shortly before and after the genocide are familiar with it through the stories passed on by loved ones, community members, and national efforts towards education and commemoration in the name of the familiar saying “Never Again”. In the case of Rwanda, “Never Again” can take on another meaning, of never again being divided as a nation.

Kigali Memorial Centre – Photo by Jenna Lemieux

The remembrance and commemoration of the genocide is very much embedded into the psyche of the nation. Rwandans realize that the violence that ensued was based on an artificial divide by external forces. Today, the willingness of the families of the perpetrators and the victims to commemorate together, and acknowledge a national pain and trauma, is a unique experience for the Rwandan people, that can only be achieved through education.

Throughout the year, opportunities for learning, reconciliation and remembrance are available to both Rwandan nationals and visitors alike through multiple genocide memorials across the country. The Kigali Genocide Memorial, for example, is a place to remember, to educate, and to honor the victims of the genocide. Alongside the history of the genocide, which is displayed throughout the memorial in a combination of text, artefacts, pictures, and personal testimonies, year-round educational programs encourage reconciliation of Hutus and Tutsis, support to survivors, and education on preventing future genocides as one nation.

“Walk to Remember” 2019 – Photo by Jenna Lemieux

Last year, during the 25th year of commemoration, over a thousand people of all ages and communities joined to walk the streets of Kigali in a “Walk to Remember”. Starting from the Rwandan parliament, this walk encouraged all to reflect on the journey taken by victims and survivors of the genocide in search of safety. The walk finished at the Amohoro (Peace) stadium, which once housed the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, where thousands of people gathered in search of refuge from the violence taking place.  After the walk, the stadium was filled with hundreds of individuals, each holding a single candle, remembering and commemorating the victims of the genocide, and through it, reconciliation.

For those who prefer a more intimate setting to remember, individuals, families, workplaces, and both Tutsi and Hutu communities held their own commemorative events. Regardless of size or what time of year, commemoration and remembrance of the genocide is both supported and encouraged within Rwanda.

Through both formal and informal methods of education, the new generations, who may not have lived through the genocide personally, remain deeply aware of its consequences and impacts. A sense of responsibility is shared through practices of commemoration and education to ensure that “Never Again” isn’t simply a phrase to repeat every year, but an ongoing commitment to awareness, peace, reconciliation and an end to the “us vs. them” mentality.”