June 5, 2014
On the 15th and 16th of May, 2014, the Agahozo-Shalom community came together to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The national commemoration events are held in their official capacity during the last three weeks of April. Each year the commemoration event begins on the 7th of April and continues for 100 days thereafter in honor of the 100 days of killings that took place across the country. During the national weeks of remembrance, the students and staff are on leave from the Village. For this reason, ASYV holds a separate ceremony once everyone has returned from break and are able to observe the 20th anniversary as a community through Village-wide prayer and discussion.
In preparation for the event, the Health and Wellness Center held a day of training to educate the staff on how to care for children who may experience an especially emotional reaction during the ceremony. Trauma can result from their memories of the Genocide, the family they have lost, or any other psychological malady. Many of our staff and older students experienced the Genocide first-hand and endure ongoing painful memories that are as sharp as they were during those dark days in April of ‘94. For our younger students who were born in the past 20 years, their lives are marked by a fearful history that no Rwandan is exempt.
The observance began on the evening of Thursday, May 15th when students gathered in the Village amphitheater for a performance of songs and prayers. No lights were permitted aside from the candles that each student held in their hands. Songs were performed by many of the religious choirs, while prayers and poems were recited from staff and students alike. Final remarks were delivered by the Village Director, JC Nkulikiyimfura. JC urged the students to remember their past to ensure its inability to ever again return to the present.
The following morning the Village embarked on a silent “Walk to Remember” to the Rubona City Center (a distance of about 3 kilometers) where the Executive Secretary, Honorable Jean-Baptiste Mutabazi, greeted the ASYV community. The Agahozo-Shalom community then returned to Liquidnet Family High School where they broke into small discussion groups. During this time, students were encouraged to share their stories and reflect on their own history. It is of vital importance that students have the opportunity to share their thoughts, express their frustrations, and find strength among a common struggle. The Genocide impacted everyone differently, but as a community, we come together to care for everyone.
When asked about the importance of holding a commemoration event at ASYV, Village Director JC responded as follows:
“We hold a commemoration ceremony for the purposes of showing our students they are not alone in their experiences. It is very easy to fall back into what happened here 20 years ago. The youth of today are the agents of change for tomorrow. So it is not only their moral duty, but also their obligation to ensure that the different factors that caused the genocide are forever reversed. We do everything to promote education and entrepreneurship, social and economic development, human rights and so fourth. It is also important that by doing so they show their love for their country. As Anne used to say, ‘Education is the antidote that will prevent 1994 from happening again.’”
Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow