Local author Claver Irakoze who has two published books to his name; ‘That Child is Me’ and ‘Transmitting Memories in Rwanda’, recently held a launch for the latter at the Kigali Marriott Hotel. The launch was attended by many notables and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The book’s purpose, Irakoze said, is to inspire survivors and parents at large to share the remembrance with their children in order to raise a generation that will sustain what Rwanda is today. ALSO READ: “That Child is Me,” A guide on how to explain Rwanda’s dark past to children Irakoze, a father of two, said it will require survivors to reopen old wounds. “We have to have these important conversations and groom young Rwandans who are not affected by hatred, discrimination, and Genocide ideology,” he said. Recollection Born in Burundi, Irakoze’s family fled Rwanda to Burundi in 1973 to escape the growing persecution of Tutsi in the country at the time. In 1988, they returned and settled in Kagbayi, in the southern part of the country, where both his parents worked as teachers. Irakoze, who was only 11 years old when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started, said that the situation had only worsened, and the lives of Tutsi had changed drastically. “During that time, Tutsi were not regarded as Rwandans but as outsiders who had invaded the country,” he said. When the Genocide started, his family took refuge at College St Joseph in Kabgayi, where his father taught, and they stayed there until June 2, 1994, when they were saved and liberated by the RPF-Inkotanyi. “Between April and June, Kabgayi was overpopulated by Tutsi refugees who were coming from different corners of the country,” he said, adding that people came to the area because they believed they were finding a haven. But it was not the case. Soldiers would take people from various buildings in Kabgayi to burn them alive in Ngororero District. Irakoze’s father was one of the 61 men who were first taken from St Joseph on April 28 to be killed. “He was killed not far from Kabgayi, according to what people told us, but the sad part of it was not finding their bodies, even after attending several Gacaca trials with the hope of hearing someone testify about them,” he said. ALSO READ: It is April again—we are locked down, but this time not for being killed! Among the men that were taken with his father, only one, Jabo, who now lives in Belgium survived, he said. According to Irakoze, watching his father being taken away by soldiers for good—powerless—was the most painful of all memories. “It has never left my mind and it affected me when I became a parent. The two months that I spent in Kagbayi, I witnessed the most dreadful part of my life to the extent that all I would do was pray for death,” he said. After the Genocide, Irakoze was only left with four siblings, his mother also died a few weeks after the Genocide, due to physical, emotional, and mental suffering. Irakoze carried on with school after the Genocide attending classes that were demolished, without doors and windows. The then government facilitated and paid for his studies and provided them with the necessary and available tools to continue with school. Finding solace Irakoze who joined the survivors association, AERG, said his secondary level of education was ‘an important refuge’ to him because he got the opportunity to socialise and connect with children with stories like his. The beneficial part of it was joining different sports clubs like football and volleyball. “When you play it helps your mind forget painful things. Sports acted as some sort of therapy because in my mind I had the voices of our parents who always told us to improve our lives, study, and succeed, so that pushed me,” he said. Irakoze, later on, graduated from secondary school and started pursuing a university degree which he attained in 2008. The author recognised the role that AERG played in his healing journey because the association’s members shared similar stories of survival. “It was another way of living because being with those you share the same history with helps you to get inspired by those who are trying to move forward,” he said. Becoming an author Irakoze got married three years after his graduation from university. After undertaking several jobs, in 2010, he started working at the Kigali Genocide Memorial which he considers the basis of who he is today. Irakoze’s book ‘Transmitting Memories in Rwanda’, which was co-authored with Caroline Williamson Sinalo, carries a message of parenting in the post-genocide period. The author believes that sharing memories and allowing children to know what their parents endured in that traumatic past is a must, but how and at what age is what they should be mindful about. “We shouldn’t pass on trauma to our kids, but that said, we shouldn’t withhold everything either because transmitting the memories is not only about the Genocide, there was life before,” he said. In doing so, Irakoze said, parents should be prepared to reconnect with their past and re-live it. They may filter what they tell their much younger children and consider the brutal truth at a later stage when they are old enough to understand. “Some parents are silent because they witnessed the most horrible events in humanity, like a young woman today who saw her mom being raped, naked, and taken away to be killed. A man like me today who saw my father powerless and unable to defend himself, those memories leave nothing but doubt and fear in our minds,” Irakoze said. Irakoze said that writing books has been a contributing factor to his healing journey because it helped him go back into his past and personal stories to extract what he can pass on to his children. Both books can be found at Ikirezi Bookstore, Kigali Genocide Memorial, and Kigali International Airport, and also be delivered by Imagine We Rwanda.