6 stories of reconciliation, resilience & recovery to mark 20th anniversary of Rwandan genocide
Women walking near the hills of Kibuye, Rwanda. / Stock image.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, a tragedy that left nearly a million people dead.
In recognition of the anniversary, many media outlets have been publishing stories about the women, men, and children who suffered through the genocide and have since found the strength to survive its aftermath.
We’ve gathered several stories that have caught our attention throughout the past couple of days. They’re stories of reconciliation, resilience, and recovery — and many have restorative qualities. Rwanda is an important place for Restorative Narratives — stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover after periods of disruption.
- “Portraits of Reconciliation,” The New York Times. The piece, written by Susan Dominus, captures the story behind a series of photos that Pieter Hugo took on a trip to southern Rwanda last month. The photos, which will be on display in The Hague this month, are part of an ongoing effort to promote reconciliation in Rwanda. One of the photos shows a woman posing with the man who killed her brothers and father. Another shows a woman standing next to a man who burned her house and attacked her in order to kill her children. “I used to hate him,” the woman, Evasta Mukanyandwi, says. “When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me.” Hugo explained: “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace. Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.”
- “11 Powerful Photos from the Aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide,” The Washington Post. Post photographer Michael S. Williamson, who spent several days with refugees at the Rwanda-Tanzania border 20 years ago, describes the photos he captured. The photographs reflect pain, hardship, and loss. One of them shows an innocent young refugee suffering from a cold. The Washington Post explains: “Williamson was sleeping out in the open at the camp. One morning when he woke up, he saw this boy lying next to him. ‘I had a laundry bag full of dinner rolls that I had stolen from the banquet room of the hotel in Kenya, where I was staying,’ Williamson says. ‘First thing I did when I saw the boy in the morning, I gave him a piece of biscuit. I never saw him again.'”
“This is Resilience,” The Atlantic. James Hamblin explains that after the genocide, many health workers fled or were killed. HIV and cholera became prevalent, child mortality rates soared, and life expectancy was incredibly low. With time, though, Rwanda bounced back. “Few imagined that Rwanda, a country the size of Maryland, would so soon — if ever — serve as an international model for health equity,” Hamblin writes. “Just two decades later, that life expectancy has doubled. Vaccination rates for many diseases are now higher than those registered in the United States — more than 97 percent of Rwandan infants are immunized against ten different diseases. Child mortality has fallen by more than two thirds since 2000. New HIV infection rates fell by 60 percent between 2000 and 2012, and AIDS-related mortality fell by 82 percent. HIV treatment is free.”
- “A Good Man in Rwanda,” the BBC. International Development Correspondent Mark Doyle tells the story of Captain Mbaye Diagne, a United Nations peacekeeper in Rwanda. Doyle describes him as “the bravest man I ever met,” and said he took tremendous risks to save hundreds of lives. In the piece, Doyle quotes American Fulbright Scholar Richard Siegler, who is writing a book about Mbaye. “When you put everything he did together,” Siegler said, “it becomes clear that this was one of the great moral acts of our times.” Doyle’s story is accompanied by several videos and a documentary.
- “Two Decades After Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Have Made the Nation Thrive,” The Daily Beast. Nina Strochlic looks at how women have spearheaded efforts to rebuild and heal Rwanda. “The traditionally patriarchal society thrust its women into the role of rebuilding the country,” Strochlic writes. “They formed local councils, headed judicial proceedings, tilled the land, and rose through the ranks of government. Amazingly, against a backdrop of near total ruin, they ushered in a level of peace and reconciliation that whipped the country into the model of development and gender equality it is today.” In another piece for The Daily Beast, Emily Shire looks at the triumph of Rwanda’s women and offers highlights from the Women in the World summit — parts of which focused on how women have helped rebuild Rwanda. The Institute for Inclusive Security, meanwhile, has published a special site about women in Rwanda, which includes a good piece by Swanee Hunt.
- “20 Years Later, Rwanda Hopes to Be ‘A Light for the World,'” NPR. Gregory Warner offers a report from Rwanda’s National Remembrance Ceremony, which recognizes those who were lost in the genocide. “Renewal is a theme this year. A video projected for the crowd spends three minutes talking about the horrors of genocide, how a political ideology of ethnic hatred inspired neighbors to kill neighbors, husbands to kill wives,” Warner reports. “The rest of the video is on brand Rwanda, now the cleanest and least corrupt country in Africa, in the running to become a Silicon Valley for the continent and where a government initiative toward women empowerment has given women real power.”
What other stories should we add to this list? Tell us in the comments section.