Thousands turn up on Memorial night Vigil
GASABO - Over 25,000 people turned up for the commemoration night vigil at Amahoro National Stadium Tuesday to participate in lighting “Candles of Hope” for Rwanda, 15 years after the Genocide.
President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame were among those who turned up at the stadium and lit the first of the 10,000 candles lit on the highly emotional night, in honour of those that survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The candles carefully spread on the stadium’s turf to form the word ‘HOPE’ in three languages of English, French and Kinyarwanda and a huge flame symbolising Hope itself were lit one by one until they formed one bright flame that shone across the stadium.
Thousands that attended the vigil were overcome by emotions as memories were evoked especially among survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi following moving testimonies.
The two survivors who spoke, Jean De Dieu Mutaganzwa, 25, and Alice Ishimwe 15, told their heart-rending stories to those that had turned up for the vigil night but encouraged them to have ‘hope’ instead of being disheartened.
Mutaganzwa was 10 years old by the time of the Genocide, according to him; he saw the world shrinking, all doors closing on him. He was the third born in the family of four.
“I was born in Bugesera District in the eastern province, by the time the Genocide started; we were living a very happy life in Nyamata (Eastern Province), despite the tension that was on by then.”
“With my parents, life was very wonderful. I was much loved.”
The eve of the Genocide saw Mutaganzwa’s life take a twist. He says that he was forced to part with his family and everybody had to go his or her own way seeking the safest place to hide but not away from the killers.
“I left my family and went into hiding. I was in the swamp in Bugesera for very many days.
I continually changed my hiding places because I was very afraid. Sometimes, the killers came near me, close to where I was, and God somehow would make them leave without seeing me. Some killers even threw stones into the bushes where I was hiding.”
As Mutaganzwa’s approached the middle of his testimony, wailing people could easily be heard across the stadium as the picture of a malnourished, wounded Mutaganzwa being rescued by RPF fighters, flashed across the giant screens, evoking fresh memories of the Genocide.
“The Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) later rescued me from the miserable life I was living; just before they came, I was just about to die,” said Mutaganzwa as many who could not hold back their emotions broke down, requiring the attention of Red Cross medics.
Mutaganzwa had to cut short his testimony but managed to restore hope among the survivors by adding that he has since managed to put back the past and gone back to school.
“I am now a fourth year student at ULK doing finance, I have hope for the future I am doing my best to please my dead family and I encourage all survivors to be strong and have hope.”
Alice Ishimwe, now 15 also gave her moving testimony inside Amahoro stadium. Her parents were among the Tutsis who had taken refuge at the Stadium, few of whom managed to survive the killers.
She says; “From the story I was told, I was born between gate 16 and gate 17 on May 1, 1994, inside this stadium where my parents were seeking refuge,” Ishimwe says.
“My parents died shortly after the genocide, I lived a very miserable life; I could not study I could not do anything; I was always in isolation,” said the Ishimwe, who had 4 other siblings who were killed. She however says that later she was supported and now she is finalising her primary school and that she has hope of living.
“I love sports, I like studying and I am looking forward to helping orphans after my education.” Ishimwe said.
Moving performances from local and regional artists who came up with Anti-Genocide songs and a movie about Genocide and Reconciliation completed the night of mourning.
As the adage goes, Music soothes the soul; a few broken souls were mended as gospel music groups sung songs of encouragement.
Prominent figures and leaders from across the world had their messages played on the giant screens as they played their part lighting candles from their respective places to declare their support for Rwanda during this hard time.
“Rwanda has continued to rise above its past, thanks to the good leadership in the country. Uganda will always stand with Rwanda in all circumstances,” remarked President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tony Blair, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US Congress and David Cameron were among other leaders who pledged their support to Rwanda and lit candles of hope.
Prominent Hollywood actors Ben Afflect, Samuel L Jackson, Forrest Whitaker and Sandra Bullock also participated in the candle lighting.