Today marks the start of the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide where an estimated 1 million women, men and children were murdered because of their ethnicity. Close to one million lives were lost in only one hundred days. The world turned a blind eye.
On this tragic anniversary, 10,000 candles are being lit in Kigali. The ceremony is the beginning of a mass global remembrance, which will continue for the next hundred days. The initiative is intended to help lift survivors out of poverty as it honors the memory of the victims of the genocide.
Thousands of survivors and members of their families will be among the first to light candles in Rwanda at the National Stadium during the official commemoration on the night of the 7th of April. They will be joined, via video on the stadium's main screen, by prominent celebrities, politicians, and diplomats also lighting candles.
Desmond Tutu, Tony Blair, Ben Affleck, Natalie Portman, Nancy Pelosi, Forest Whitaker, Clive Owen, and Sandra Bullock were among the first public figures to light "Candles for Rwanda" for the video -- encouraging people everywhere to join this global initiative to commemorate the anniversary and to help survivors rebuild their shattered lives. During the hundred days from April 7th to July 16th many more public figures from around the world will participate in this meaningful event.
Individuals are invited to participate. For every donation of $10, a candle will be lit in the donor's name and placed in remembrance at mass graves on the grounds of the Kigali Memorial Centre, where 250,000 victims of the genocide lie buried. The money will go towards education and support, particularly for the widows and orphans of Rwanda in order to ensure that the survivors of the genocide can live, not merely exist. Individuals are also invited to leave a message or upload a video.
Some of the stars -- Samuel L Jackson, Clive Owen and Adrien Brody among them -- chose to light their candles in respectful silence. Others offered a moving dedication of their candle-lighting to the victims and survivors. "I want to light this candle for those people who were killed, and the parts of us that were killed, as people in humanity, to allow these things to happen," said Forest Whitaker, who in 2007 won an Oscar for his screen portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. "I want to light this candle for love, because it represents the spark that we have inside of all of us. This candle, I want to light for you... I want to light for us."
"For a 100 days, starting on April 7, 1994, a million children, women and men were slaughtered in Rwanda, simply because of who they were," says Stephen Twigg, a Director of the Aegis Trust, which is helping to coordinate the initiative. "Today, despite the trauma of the past, Rwanda is rebuilding and full of hope for the future. However, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and thousands of those who survived - many of them widowed or orphaned by the genocide - remain destitute, unable to keep shelter over their heads or put food on the table. Candles for Rwanda is intended to help change all of that."
Partners involved in the Candles for Rwanda initiative include Rwanda15 (the official Rwandan commemoration), the Imbuto Foundation, Kigali City Council, Ibuka, the Aegis Trust, Three Generations, Eye Spy Films, The Infantry, The Harry Potter Alliance, and Instigate Debate.
Scroll down for photos:
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Actor Adrien Brody
Actress Sandra Bullock
Actor Clive Owen
Actor, Director, Author and Diplomat Sidney Poitier
Actress Natalie Portman
Actor Samuel L. Jackson
The Reverend Desmond Tutu
Actor Forest Whitaker