Concern charity worker revisits Rwanda 20 years after genocide

Rachelle Nyirancando, 30, a mother -f-four, meets with Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley.

Rachelle Nyirancando, 30, a mother -f-four, meets with Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley.

  • by Dominic MacSorley CEO Concern Worldwide

For me, this anniversary is particularly significant as I worked with Concern in Rwanda 20 years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide.

Without doubt, it was one of the toughest assignments in my 30 years with Concern. One hundred days, 800,000 people killed, two million displaced – the scale of it was unlike anything we had dealt with before.

At the time, Concern mounted its largest ever emergency response with over 1,000 staff working around the clock to set up transit centres to care for 32,000 children, rebuilding thousands of houses, and supporting those who had lost everything so they could begin restoring their lives.

Last month, I returned to Rwanda.

Going back filled me with mixed emotions, and again raised the difficulty of resolving the contradictions between the wonderful, inherently peaceful landscapes and the kind and hospitable people on the one hand, and the merciless savagery of the genocide on the other.

Even now, 20 years later, that feeling of disconnect remains between what you see around you and what you know once took place.

During my recent trip, I travelled a short distance outside the capital Kigali to a small church at Nyamata, one of many chilling genocide sites across the country.

In the three years I had worked in Rwanda, I had visited this place many times.

Nyamata had lost none of its resonance - it still felt like yesterday.

Hung on the walls of the church were the blood stained clothes of the 5,000 people who been murdered as they vainly sought sanctuary in the small church.

Nearby, human remains, skulls and bones were arranged in neat displays, poignant reminders of the horrors of genocide.

On another wall at the back of the church, were the scrawled words of a young student who had visited some time before me.

It was a tribute to the lost generation and a promise from the next to ‘stand tall, in the gap you have left’.

Amidst the worst and most challenging times in Rwanda, there are a thousand stories of hope and humanity.

Stories of children reunited with parents, schools re-opening, women standing proud again as they pay-off small business loans, children being successfully treated for malnutrition, communities coming together, lives being rebuilt, a country carving out a new, stronger future.

Back in 1994, I could not have envisaged the success story the country would become in such a relatively short period of time.

Rwanda is one of the strongest growing economies in Africa. But, with 40 per cent living in extreme poverty, much remains to be done.

On this important anniversary, we have the obligation not only to look back and pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the genocide, but also to consider the progress that has been made in the past two decades.

For Rwanda is not only the story of one of the gravest and most inhumane acts in recent history, it is also a story of recovery, resilience and the ability of humanity to overcome extraordinary adversity.




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