In 1994, Rwanda suffered a horrific genocide, Hutu’s and Tutsi’s clashed, and almost one million people were slaughtered in just one hundred days. But despite the past, the people of Rwanda work together with hope and understanding, to make sure an event like this never takes place again.
This understanding and forgiveness is a credit to those who are left behind, and a fitting testament to their cause is the Kigali Memorial Centre, where the bodies of over 250,000 victims are now buried. But, this is not just a burial site, this is a place to learn from the past and bring hope to future generations.
Set on a hillside, surrounded by gardens full of beautiful roses, the Kigali Memorial Centre glistens. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, a sense of well being and tranquillity fills the air, and even the chatter of visiting children seems appropriate. Inside, the feeling remains, but a sense of sadness and reality takes hold. The bright sunshine is replaced by three exhibition rooms where spotlights create an atmosphere. Detailed, touching but truthful information highlights key stages in the genocide; the road leading up to the events, the 100 days of the genocide, and the aftermath. This is the first floor, which also houses a photo memorial, a picture gallery filled with photos of the victims from happy times. Times of special family occasions – weddings, birthdays, family get togethers, and proud portraits in best clothes. These pictures, and a collection of clothing, brings home that these people were real people, human beings just like everybody else.
The second floor is also a place for reflection; it is the children’s memorial. Here, along with images of children, their school rooms and pictures of their family lives, fourteen windows each tell the story of one child – their favourite sport, food, drink, best friend, and finally, their cause of death…following this part of the exhibit a balcony overlooks the gardens to allow for a moment of reflection.
In April 2012, Francine would have celebrated her 30th Birthday, maybe she would have been a doctor or a mother. But today, in her own way, she is a teacher, teaching others that ethnic cleansing is not acceptable.
There is much much more to this memorial and its gardens, and this is not the only one of its kind in Rwanda, there are others. They all tell a story which will hopefully help to demonstrate some unforgettable lessons to the world. To some, this may seem like a reason not to visit Rwanda, but this centre helps local people and visitors to understand what makes the Rwandan people what they are – strong, forgiving and caring. This is an exceptionally compelling reason to visit their beautiful country.