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“Forget not your past” The role of Art in commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi

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On the evening of April 9th, 2023, the 13th edition of the Our Past Initiative event gathered over 2000 young people at the Kigali Memorial Genocide in Rwanda to commemorate for the 29th time the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi.

The event aimed to promote healing among survivors through various forms of artistic expressions such as music, poetry, and performing arts. But most importantly, this initiative provides a platform for young Rwandans to express themselves creatively, honor the memory of the genocide victims, and promote unity and reconciliation.

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Approximately 2000 young people gathered at the Gisozi memorial to attend the event

As I stood among the crowd at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, we all took a minute of silence to pay tribute to the lives lost during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It was a sobering moment as we reflected on the tragic events that unfolded during that fateful month of April.

Yet, amidst the silence, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of zeal at the thousands of young Rwandans who had gathered there.

They were there eager to learn more about their history, to honor the memories of the lives lost in the genocide, and to promote peace and unity for both their generation and the ones to come. It was a powerful reminder that even in the face of tragedy, hope can prevail.

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Young women and men are eager to learn and understand the past to build a more resilient future

The event started off with a screening of a short documentary on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi prepared by AEGIS.

Following that, a talented poetry team from Gashora Girls School presented a thought-provoking play titled “Truth to the Youth.” The play revolved around a fictional court case in which a young girl was being tried for celebrating during the season of commemoration, despite warnings from her elders.

This play highlighted the disconnect that younger generations have with their country’s history, particularly the Genocide.

While they may empathize with the atrocity, the lack of personal experience creates a disconnection. The play brought this issue to light in a powerful and engaging way, emphasizing the importance of passing on the memory of the Genocide to future generations.

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Through art, young people are promoting healing among survivors

The event also featured a dialogue with Claver Irakoze, author of the book ‘That Child Is Me.’ He shared his experience during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and emphasized the importance of sharing and documenting one’s history.

“After I became a parent, I wanted my children to learn about my history and know who I truly am, and writing this book helped me share a piece of myself with them. I would also like to urge parents to educate their children on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and have conversations that could prevent or address transgenerational trauma,” said Irakoze.

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Claver Irakoze story provided a deeper understanding of what makes a man; His history

The last play showcased was named “Hobe Rwanda” by Junior Rumaga, which exhibited the immense despair and woe left behind by the Genocide. You could see how the audience was moved by the play as it portrayed the grievance of the 1994 Genocide, but also the zeal to rebuild our country and build a brigher future for it.

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Junior Rumaga’s performance reminded many of the role they should play in peace building

“Past is not our master,
Divisionism is not our flag,
Misery is not our motto,
Peace is our destiny,
Reconciliation is our priority…” Hobe Rwanda

The stirring words of Hobe Rwanda’s performance touched the hearts of the audience, myself included, as it spoke to the aspirations we all hold for Rwanda.

The play ended on a powerful note, with the cast lighting a candle and passing the light to the whole congregation, symbolizing the role of the youth in illuminating the way towards a brighter and reconciled country.

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Lighting candles symbolizes the role of the youth in illuminating the way towards a brighter and reconciled country.

As the event came to a close, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the talent and passion displayed by the young Rwandans who took part in the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It was a powerful reminder that art has a crucial role to play in promoting healing and reconciliation.

Through music, poetry, and performing arts, the youth of Rwanda are shining a light on the atrocities of the past and promoting a brighter future for their country. As we remember the lives lost during the Genocide, we must also remember that we, the youth of Rwanda, are the light and the hope to a reconciled future. We are agents of change, it is our mission to build our future.

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