April 7 marked the 18th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It is the somber period that helps us reflect the deaths of over a million men, women, and children who were killed simply because of their ethnicity or political beliefs.
The memory of these tragic events also deepens our commitment to act when faced with genocide any where and to work with partners around the world to prevent future atrocities. We are inspired to work towards restoring trust and rebuilding hope in Rwanda.
I have always considered myself a patriot. I believed that I was richly informed on major issues concerning the country, be it economical, political or historical. However, this year’s “Walk to Remember” gave me a more intense connection as compared to others.
This year’s Walk truly defined the measures of true citizenship in this country. I witnessed these “measures” throughout the walk; from the conception to the preparation to the conclusion.
I saw loyalty, integrity, self sacrifice and courage throughout the walk.
There was intense loyalty among the youth in the preparation of the walk. One particular organiser told me he had not slept at all the whole night due to preparations for the walk and some last minute touches that required attention.
I met several youth during the walk who reminded me of the integrity of the event. I met a group of youngsters who were discussing ways in which to improve awareness and sensitivity among themselves. We were encouraged to stay focused on the walk so as to honour the lives of the people who perished.
I felt everyone’s sacrifice as we all squeezed in Parliament waiting for the rain to stop and I have never felt so proud of myself and my fellow youth. As we waited for the final signal to start walking (the rain had become a drizzle), a girl close to me held my hand and said “Don’t worry, the rain will stop.” So I quickly added, “I don’t mind, we have to do this.” It was common understanding that we were obliged to stand the rain. We felt the need to recognise and respect our brothers and sisters and something as shallow as weather wasn’t going to stop us.
I saw courage in young people to step up and be leaders. The walk gave young Rwandans a platform to express their opinions about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. I saw the courage in their eyes. Pain and regret is still eminent in everyone including the youth. However, the determination of these individuals made me envy and admire their ability to surpass such a traumatic past.
I do not know what made me feel exceptionally connected this year. I suppose it is my role in the Jabba Junior Foundation (JJF), a non-profit organization run by the youth with the main aim of enhancing and contributing to peace building and development of Rwanda. All this is made possible by raising awareness on peace issues, assisting the vulnerable youth, and mobilization them for effective civil participation. This year, JJF paired up with Peace and Love Proclaimers (PLP).
I recognise a sense of budding maturity, understanding, respect and duty in the youth. It made me mighty proud when I woke up to check my facebook account and read several posts from the youth with optimistic messages like, Lets learn from our past, We must give respect to our deceased brothers and sisters, Let us keep the memories of the 1994 Genocide as a way to say never again.
Patriotism is defined as “love for one’s country”. I believe that in order to build the future, one must acknowledge the mistakes and accomplishments of the past. I now, more than ever, have faith in myself and my fellow youth.
During the walk, I discovered my direction; it wasn’t towards the stadium but towards our future as a great nation. I believe that as a nation, we are on the journey to self discovery, a journey untouched by regret, hatred, anger or division but defined by resolution, unity, peace and most importantly love.
Bery Manzi is the Vice President of Jabba Junior Foundation