When 23-year-old Samantha Teta thought of introducing a virtual space to commemorate those who were killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, she did not even for a moment anticipate how far-reaching or effective the idea would be.
From her college dorm in Vancouver, Canada, the Political Science student formed a Twitter group onto which she added 10 other young Rwandans, most of whom were also born during post-genocide.
#DearSurvivor Lucie Kampinka (Big sister) she usually called me her big sister yet she was 8 years older. Well, to cut a long story short she is the most precious person that the genocide took from me. pic.twitter.com/oHDC6EcLhQ— Kevine Bonheur Naturelle (@KagirimpunduK) April 9, 2020
Inspired by the need to bring Rwandans together to remember their loved ones, while at the same time practicing social distancing, Teta introduced the group to hashtags #Dear Survivor and #Turibuka.
Teta says that the hashtags were introduced as a promise to survivors that they could freely express themselves and their testimonies would be treated with care, and would amplified to drown out all the Genocide deniers' noise.
The hashtag breakdown
Explaining the idea behind #DearSurvivor, Teta says that this particular hashtag expresses Rwandans’ gratefulness to survivors in different aspects.
“It is basically to tell survivors that we are privileged, honoured and humbled that they when they share their stories with us. We want to them to know that we believe them and that we care,” she says.
On the other hand, #Turibuka was created for those who were killed. Its purpose is to acknowledge the victims and to keep their memory alive.
Teta says that it was important to give survivors a platform where they can share stories focusing on not only how the victims were killed but who they really were.
“We felt that it is important to pause and acknowledge how the victims lived their lives, their personalities as individuals, and their work as teachers, doctors, artists, etc. It is an opportunity to ensure that the memory of the families that were for instance completely wiped out lives on,” Teta says.
Creating a calendar
Former Rwandan radio presenter Cynthia Umurungi, who is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya was actively part of the team.
She told The New Times, in a separate interview that with the hashtags in place, the team begun reflecting on the ‘Remember-Unite-Renew’ commemoration theme and discussing on the way forward.
“Together, we drew up a calendar and broke it down into different topics, matching each with a team member who would curate it,” she explained.
Grieving for our dearest ones, we lost during the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in 1994 is a commitment that #Rwanda will always have. As a youth, I am a driving force that will always glint their legacy.#Kwibuka26#RwOT #Turibuka#DearSurvivor pic.twitter.com/4XlDzvsy51— Claudine Karangwa Ingabire ?? (@karangwaclau) April 20, 2020
Umurungi was allocated April 10 where she curated the ‘Genocide Literature Day’ where quotes and excerpts from books, academic work and book reviews were shared.
The calendar also covered discussions on the stages of Genocide, Mental health (covering intergenerational trauma and how to deal with grief and trauma), and the role of post-genocide generation in peace-building among others.
The response from Twitter users was bigger than had been anticipated.
“The moment the hashtags were up, the interaction was immediate. Survivors started sharing their testimonies, pictures of their loved ones, messages of hope, while some even extended the hashtags to their respective families and used them to commemorate together,” she says.
Collectively, the hashtags brought together 91, 783 people. Separately, there were 46,799 interactions under #DearSurvivor and 44,984 for #Turibuka.
In his tweet, one of the participants; Clement Ndegeya used #Turibuka to share a photo of his father who was killed during the genocide.
“As we close out this year's #Kwibuka commemoration week of the Genocide against the Tutsi, I wanted to take a moment to remember some of my family, starting with my dad who was killed at our home on April 13th, 1994. Here he's holding our youngest in the family Michel Ndegeya,” he said.
While the idea of the hashtags was quickly put together, the team hopes to be more prepared in the future and to aim for a wider reach.
“Hashtags are a modern and powerful form of storytelling. Right now, one click on any of these hashtags will give you photos, videos, and stories and all these leave a digital footprint. This is important when you are fighting online genocide denial,” Teta says.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi runs from April 7- July 16.Follow https://twitter.com/Africannash