blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Melissa Demyan
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to visit the holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany. The memorial itself is located right outside of the current government headquarters in Germany, so those in charge can never forget what happened when making decisions on behalf of the country. The memorial in Berlin itself was powerful, but I personally don’t know anyone affected by the holocaust. My grandfathers fought in WWII and it was their generation who witnessed that particular atrocity. Visiting the memorial on August 13th in Kigali, where 250,000 Rwandese are buried, the experience I had while being there brought up a lot of the same intense feelings I had in Berlin–regarding the senseless loss of life–but my feelings were enhanced and compounded by the people I visited the memorial with. The other Rwandan delegates are my age, they are youth human rights activists-as I am-and this is their country.
Many of the delegates here may have only been small children when the horrific genocide against the Tutsi occurred, where more than a million people were killed over a period of 100 days–most of which were Tutsi’s; along with moderate Hutus who refused to take part in the murdering of their fellow countrymen; batwa, who are all too often forgotten about; national and even a few international soldiers, as our delegation saw at the Belgian soldiers memorial; national and international nuns, preists, pastors, and clergymen who saw past ethnicity and viewed all people as children of god; humanitarian and aid workers who refused to leave the country despite threats against their lives; and countless others, whose stories may not even be known or acknowledged to this day.
Every single one of the delegates here has their own story and was either directly or indirectly impacted by these events. In some ways, I’m sure the genocide against the Tutsi shaped their childhoods and their coming of age. While these events were occurring, even as early as 1990 and specifically February 1991, MY life was beginning. The western world stood by INDIFFERENTLY, along with the larger international community, while planning and early signs of genocide took place. As I was learning to walk and speak, the children here were learning to walk and speak as well. My parents greatest fear for me was that I would trip and fall–scraping my knee–while their parents feared for their children’s and their own lives. Other’s parents here prepared to kill their neighbors, friends, and family members because of insistent fear-based propaganda expelled over the radio station RTLM, and probably chose to act as a means of protecting their children’s future.
In 1994, when I was 3 years old, the most horrific 100 days of killing occurred here, and more than a million people lost their lives as I mentioned earlier. I’m not even sure if my parents were aware of what was going on, or if it was even reported on the nightly news in America. Some of my new friends here are direct survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi, and all of them are survivors of the TOXIC and DIVISIVE ideology which plagued this BEAUTIFUL country during their youth. Now, they ALL consider themselves RWANDESE and not a single mention of the ethnic origins of any specific delegate has been brought up during our three weeks together–a crucial step towards healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness, as pointed out by many of the rwandan delegates. They survived a BRUTAL and HAUNTING event, which occurred during their most formative years and have grown up with the burden of trying to right some of the many wrongs committed against their fellow Rwandese. While walking around the memorial, I was watching my new friends and what I felt was a sense of personal responsibility on my part.
It is not only THEIR burden, it is now MY burden too. We are ALL human, we are now FRIENDS, and I will do everything in my power-from this day forward-to share of my experiences here, to share my new friend’s stories with discretion, to share of the truths I’ve learned here through action and dialogue, and to share in the burden of righting this atrocious wrong, while making sure something like this never occurs again on OUR watch. Genocide should never take place, and it is through the indifference of good men that evil prevails in society. It is MY responsibility to speak, it is MY responsibility to protect, and it is MY responsibility to give testimony for those who may be left voiceless in sorrow. Bravery comes in all shapes and sizes–people both young and old–as I’ve now witnessed at Nyange school where 6 students lost their lives in 1997 for speaking out against injustice, and at the memorial where there were COUNTLESS stories of those who risked their own LIVES and WELL-BEING to protect neighbors, friends and family from harm, when the international community created in 1945 after the holocaust–to protect all peoples everywhere against genocide–abandoned Rwanda, and all those living here.
I must be BRAVE, I must speak out against INJUSTICE EVERYWHERE, and I must SHARE the burden of those affected, because it will take ALL of us TOGETHER, to prevent such occurrences from ever happening again. Turikumwe!