April 7th 1994 was the day the Rwandan genocide officially began. Over the following 100 days over 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutus were murdered in the swiftest bloodbath in the history of genocide. Yet as one survivor recently explained to me: "if they had had gas chambers none of us would have survived." In the brutally systematic, yet comparatively slow killing spree a precious few managed to escape as others around them were killed by hand, one at a time.
So why must we remember?
We remember because history does repeat itself, as we see in Darfur today. We remember to honor those who died. Remembering the past is also an important part of the healing.
And what are the lessons?
The world turned away, abandoned the people of Rwanda in their time of need and allowed this to happen, as if in slow motion, over one hundred days. Yet this tiny country, haunted by such a bloody history has managed to start the rebuilding and healing process and made such progress in their reconciliation that Rwanda can serve as an inspiration.
What might we do now, 15 years later?
If you have time over the next 100 days, light a candle for those who perished: thousands of families were totally wiped out in the genocide and have no-one living to remember them. Most survivors lost every living relative. Survivors try to remember not only their loved ones, but the strangers they saw murdered. It is a huge responsibility.
Over the last few years I have visited Rwanda several times and had the opportunity to meet many survivors. Surviving the 100 days of anarchy, murder rape and pillage was only their first challenge. Surviving the aftermath and rebuilding lives is still a daily struggle. Francine Uwamahoro was 10 years old in 1994 when she managed to save herself and her 4 younger brothers, the tiniest of whom she strapped to her back. She told me about that period "only God knows our lives". To hear her story and other tales of survival from the genocide in Rwanda visit 3 Generations. By listening to their stories, you honor survivors and their lost families. And you can become part of the healing process.