The Rwandan community and friends of Rwanda in the state of Iowa, United States, on Sunday gathered in the state capital, Des Moines, for a commemoration activity to honour over a million people killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The event was held at World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.
It was the second time the Rwandan community have held a commemorative activity in this state, the first time being last year.
The commemoration activity was characterized by lighting the flame of remembrance, testimonies and a symposium that explored different dimensions of genocide.
Speaking at the event, Frank Kayijuka, the first Counselor at the Rwandan Embassy in Washington DC, hailed Genocide survivors for choosing to forgive and rebuild the country as one of Africa’s strongest nations.
“Ethnic violence threatened to destroy our country, but it failed,” he said. “We are bound to our history, but we are not bound to repeat it. For memory sows the seeds of renewal,” said Kayijuka, adding;
“We have no choice but to live for those who have died.”
The Genocide happened when Valentine Iribagiza was 13.
She lost her parents, a brother, the fingers on her right hand and nearly her life in the violence but luckily survived after spending 43 days hiding in a room of a church, with little food and just rainwater, surrounded by dead bodies and convinced the world was coming to an end.
Yet Iribagiza survived and went on to share her harrowing story in the 2005 PBS “Frontline” programme episode titled “Ghosts of Rwanda.”
On Sunday, she again shared her story with the more than 200 people who turned up for the Kwibuka 25 in Des Moines.
During her testimony, Iribagiza said, “We didn’t know why someone who was your friend, who you went to school with, who you lived next to would come to kill you,” she said.
Drawing from her hard fought journey to survival from the Genocide, Iribagiza “We need to not let genocide happen anywhere,” she added.
Among the guests present at the event was Honore Gatera, the memorial manager at Kigali Genocide Memorial who has traveled the world to raise awareness on genocide as a global threat to humanity.
Gatera, who has worked at the Memorial since it became open to public in 2004, said Rwanda is taking big focus on the youth by educating them about the Genocide against the Tutsi in schools so they can know the truth about what happened.
He noted that the Peace and Values curriculum in Rwandan schools helps students “confront the truth” about the genocide.
According to Gatera, commemoration is significant, in part, because Rwandans who didn’t experience the genocide or were too young to remember it are still affected by its consequences through the loss of parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members.
“This is the starting point of a very long journey of transmitting the flame of memory to the next generation. It’s inevitable we will transmit pain, but we also want to transmit the courage to face the consequences of the genocide and the resilience to build your lives,” Gatera said.
Claudien Karangwa, president of the Rwandan Community of Iowa, noted that the commemoration is a “time to remember our tragic past and to never let it happen again.”