Jean Marie Vianney Bagirishya, like hundreds of many Genocide survivors, has lived a tough and challenging life.
But despite the difficult times, he and other survivors have managed to put the past behind them and move forward.
“We have worked relentlessly for the past 20 years to transform our lives,” says Bagirishya, a survivor and head of Ibuka in Nyamasheke District. Ibuka is an umbrella organisation for survivors’ associations.
Bagirishya was speaking as other survivors together with hundreds of area residents, welcomed the Kwibuka Flame in the district on Sunday afternoon.
The Flame, which arrived from the neighbouring Rusizi District, symbolises remembrance, resilience and ability of Rwandans to build a prosperous nation over the past 20 years.
Cheers and ululations filled the atmosphere as two school children, both aged 20, accompanied with 20 kids (signifying 20 years since the Genocide) arrived with the flame at Kagano sector.
For survivors, it was time to reflect on the tough times they experienced and how they have since transformed their lives.
“We have decent housing, we can afford to feed ourselves, educate our children and access health care,” the 41-year-old man added, with a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Bagirishya testified how thousands of Tutsis were mercilessly butchered by the Interahamwe militia during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“Those who were lucky to escape the killings were left with almost nothing. Their relatives had been killed, their property looted and their homes plundered. They were left with both physical and psychological wounds,” Bagirishya said.
“However, despite undergoing such traumatic experiences, we have endeavoured to live better lives and we have reason to smile,” he added.
He hailed the government for coming up with programmes to support Genocide survivors.
“I am sure this Flame will continue to shine in our lives and communities because we are now focused on what can help uplift our lives,” he said.
Emerging from darkness
Nyamasheke District mayor Jean Baptiste Habyarimana said Rwandans have for the past 20 years seen light as opposed to the past darkness that threatened to tear apart the nation.
“Genocide survivors, particularly, have continuously built their lives thanks to their efforts and support from the government and well-wishers,” he said.
“This torch is an indication that life will continue to blossom, that we will continue to live meaningful lives and that our children will inherit a strong and prosperous nation,” Habyarimana added.
Dr. Mathias Harebamungu, the Minister of State in Charge of Primary and Secondary Education said the past 20 years have been a milestone in the reconstruction of the country.
Noting that the Genocide drove Rwanda to the brink, he encouraged residents to draw lessons from the country’s past.
“From the abyss, we did our best to rise and we have emerged successfully,” Harebamungu said.
He challenged Rwandans to work hard and change the country’s history by championing socio-economic growth.
“It is everyone’s duty to jointly contribute to building a prosperous nation for ourselves and our children,” Harebamungu said.
He challenged the youth to use their skills and talents to help build the country.
Harebamungu also called upon Rwandans to champion the truth and encouraged those who took part in the Genocide to seek forgiveness.
Nyamasheke, in the western part of the country, was the scene of multiple horrific massacres during the Genocide.
Thousands of Tutsis who had sought refuge at several sites which they believed were safe were later attacked and killed in some of the worst killings, according to testimonies.
It is estimated that over 45,000 people were murdered at the Nyamasheke Parish Catholic church while another 11,000 who had sought refuge at Hanika Church were also killed.
What they said
Theophile Turikumwe, resident
As a young man growing up in pre-Genocide Rwanda, I saw the extent of discrimination against the Tutsi, especially in schools. Tutsi students were regularly called and made to stand in front of the class just for no good reason. In the 1990s, things worsened and the climax was in April 1994. Roadblocks were mounted everywhere and people were indiscriminately killed. It was a terrible period. But 20 years down the road, life is better and people are working hard to improve their livelihoods.
Emma Maria Mukambaraga, 53, Genocide survivor
Following the Genocide against the Tutsi, we embarked on a journey to rebuild the country. There is proof that the present is good and that the future is bright. This Flame will continue to guide us in our quest for a better future. I am confident that together, we are building a better country for ourselves and our children. At least I am sure that our children will not inherit ruins.