Archive for the ‘Rwanda’ Tag

Rwanda: Genocide and Jesus (May 16 – 25)   1 comment


Upon crossing into Rwanda it felt as though we were able to take a large breath of fresh air. The air is crisp, the countryside is green and hilly and there is no litter. While throwing trash in the street is a hobby in most African countries, here it is actually illegal and you’re not even allowed to have plastic bags. The people happily smile, wave and shout camara (hello) or mozungu (white person) rather than crowding you trying to get you to buy something or give them money.

Rwanda’s nickname ‘the land of a thousand hills’ becomes obvious as we travel south along a winding road to Huye (Butare) through undulating hills covered with lush plots of green crops and banana trees all sloping down, sometimes terraced, into a valley of rice or cassava fields. We were extremely lucky while in Rwanda because we were able to spend time with John who took us around with ZOE Ministries, which is a Methodist organization that works with orphans here. We also had a chance to see the history first hand of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.


**The first two pictures below are off the web, because they wouldn’t allow us to take pictures inside the memorials.**

The very mention of Rwanda often evokes images of a gang of machete wielding Africans marching through the streets slaughtering men women and children for belonging to a different tribe. This is exactly what we saw at many of the country’s memorials and museums. Since the 50’s, while under Belgian rule, the Hutus had continuously tried to kill and remove the minority Tutsi from Rwanda. In 1962, after independence, the killings continued culminating in the 1994 genocide.

A few kilometers from Gikongoro on a hill that used to be a campus for a technical school houses the most grotesque and captivating memorials I have ever seen. The area was called a ‘safe zone’ and at one point was even occupied by French troops. Many Tutsi were told to seek shelter from the slaughter there, but rather than safety they were simply being gathered for mass execution. Everyone there was killed and thrown into mass graves while the french troops played volleyball.

As we walked past the museum we saw long brick buildings that once housed vocational classrooms but now contained the remains of the genocide victims. As we walked toward the farthest building we could smell a faint stench in the air, almost like a rotting animal must be near by. As we turned the corner and entered the first room our senses were overloaded by the acrid smell of decaying bodies piled onto tables and contained in a small concrete room along with the sight of scores of bodies twisted and contorted, shriveled and covered in lime, frozen in time in their death throes. Their faces seemed to call out to your soul while their withered skin revealed rib or leg bones ripped back by machete strikes and their skulls were shattered by nail ridden bats or blunt wooden clubs. Standing there with your stomach in knots, breathing through your mouth to minimize the pungent odor and gazing through tearing eyes due to the vapors of lime or decaying flesh you ask yourself how could this have happened.

Bodies fill every room in multiple buildings that range from adult to toddlers and 2 month old babies. Even our guide pointed out the room that contained her family. A true reminder and solid proof of the attempted genocide that killed 1,000,000 people and left many more wounded or displaced.

We also visited churches in Nyamata and Ntarama where 10,000 and 5,000 people were killed respectively. While many people went to churches to seek refuge, this simply acted as a convenient place for the Interahamwe (Hutu death squads) to find large numbers of Tutsi. The churches are filled with the clothes of the dead as well as hundreds of skulls and bones. The outsides are punctuated by large holes from grenades and the insides are riddled with bullet holes. One building had a large brown stain at one end; the guide informed us that this is where babies and small children were smashed against the bricks. Outside each church were large underground vaults that serve as mass graves for those killed at the churches.

ZOE Ministry

(Orphan with two younger sisters now has a house, pig and business selling avocados)

The other extreme of human nature was shown in the work of ZOE Ministry (Click here for more information). If anyone is looking for a great ministry or charity, this is it; although it is more of an empowerment movement than a charity. The group gathers orphans from poor areas and puts them through training for food security, income generation, hygiene and more. Rather than give them food and clothes (which is an ephemeral solution and merely creates dependency) ZOE teaches them to earn their own money or grow their own food and not rely on anyone but themselves and each other.

Kid and Father with one leg (year 1)  –  Pig given by ZOE for family to sell piglets

Kid and mother with crippled leg (year 1)   –    Bananas given to ZOE by orphans

The people we met and stories we heard were truly amazing. Orphans living under bridges at age 7 were raising pigs and goats or growing bananas two years later and looked completely different. Many of the kids were raising younger siblings or looking after their old or disabled guardian and had no hope until ZOE Ministry gave them a chance. The kids in the program for 2 or 3 years no longer needed help from the organization and would even tell ZOE they no longer needed help and to move on and help others. Many of these kids had found other orphans in the area and were helping them to get established. Even if your attitude is “screw them Africans”, at least look at the above link and see how ZOE truly lets these orphans help themselves. America could learn a thing or two from ZOE.

1) This orphanage gave us many gifts and told us they no longer needed help and that we should move on and help others. 2) Magan helping feed the orphans at lunch time.

Posted June 7, 2012 by Magan and Brenden in Africa, Rwanda

Tagged with , , , , , ,