Rwanda re­mem­bers

How pri­vate groups and govern­ment try to heal the wounds of geno­cide

Africa Renewal - - Interview - By Noam Shus­ter-Eliasi

In Rwanda, ev­ery cor­ner hides a mem­ory; in the land of a thou­sand hills, the mem­o­ries tell of in­cred­i­ble for­give­ness, of sto­ries that unite and heal and en­cour­age all Rwan­dans to hope.

There’s plenty of hope and for­give­ness in the clinic of Women’s Eq­uity in Ac­cess to Care and Treat­ment ( WE-ACTx for Hope) founded in 2013 by a group of Rwan­dan health care providers to as­sist chil­dren and youth liv­ing with HIV. Sup­ported by the govern­ment and lo­cal phi­lan­thropists, WE-ACTx for Hope founders were in­spired by an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity-based HIV/ AIDS ini­tia­tive (also called WE-ACTx) founded in 2003 by a group of front­line AIDS physi­cians, ac­tivists and re­searchers fol­low­ing ap­peals for AIDS med­i­ca­tions and treat­ment by geno­cide sur­vivors.

Two clin­ics in Ki­gali run by the lo­cal WE-ACTx’s of­fer free med­i­cal and psy­choso­cial ser­vices to more than 2,250 HIV-pos­i­tive pa­tients. Be­sides treat­ment, health ed­u­ca­tion and re­search, the clin­ics or­ga­nize a sum­mer camp for 600 youths and chil­dren where they learn mu­sic, the­ater, and how to live healthy with HIV. The camp also serves as an av­enue for “peer par­ents” [older youths] to ad­vise the younger ones to avoid con­flict.

Janet (not her real name), a 17-year old peer par­ent at the clinic, was dis­traught when she dis­cov­ered that she was HIV-pos­i­tive. But to­day, she goes to the clinic once a week to teach mu­sic to a

younger group. We sud­denly found out we are not alone, and that many kids face the same prob­lems,” she says. “We are here to teach them that they can be strong and live a healthy life.”

Mu­si­cians With­out Bor­ders, a global net­work of mu­si­cians that are us­ing their tal­ents to heal and rec­on­cile Rwan­dans, has joined the camp. The group’s motto is: “One good thing about mu­sic, when it hits you, you feel no pain,” bor­row­ing the words of late Bob Mar­ley, the leg­endary Ja­maican reg­gae star. Mu­si­cians With­out Bor­ders or­ga­nizes reg­u­lar mu­sic work­shops for hun­dreds of chil­dren through­out Ki­gali and sur­round­ing towns and vil­lages. They also pro­vide lead­er­ship train­ing for the youths.

Civil so­ci­ety and the govern­ment are mak­ing con­sid­er­able ef­forts to pro­mote heal­ing among the peo­ple. In ad­di­tion to des­ig­nat­ing April 7 the Geno­cide Me­mo­rial Day, and the week fol­low­ing it as an of­fi­cial week of mourn­ing, the govern­ment has also built a Geno­cide Me­mo­rial Cen­tre in Ki­gali that has so far wel­comed over 100,000 visi­tors.

In the cen­tre, many doc­u­ments show the tes­ti­monies of per­pe­tra­tors and sur­vivors. On dis­play is an im­age of a killer and his tes­ti­mony. The man’s face is sad, ap­par­ently for his crimes. His tes­ti­mony says that the Hutu govern­ment told him and the rest of his Hutu neigh­bors that Tutsi sol­diers were on their way to kill them, so they had to kill all the Tut­sis. He ex­plains that Hutu au­thor­i­ties at the time led or­di­nary peo­ple to kill.

School chil­dren and teach­ers, both Tutsi and Hutu, visit this cen­tre at least twice a year to learn the les­son: “Never Again,” which is the term the govern­ment is us­ing to raise aware­ness of the hor­rors of geno­cide. And to re­mind ev­ery­one that the Rwanda of 1994 is not the Rwanda of 2014. Surely, to­day’s Rwanda is heal­ing and mov­ing for­ward.

Re­nato Granieri / Alamy

The Geno­cide Memo­rial Cen­tre in Ki­gali, Rwanda.

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