The Land of A Thousand Hills

The Land of A Thousand Hills
A Landscape of Rwanda

Friday, June 6, 2014


On Saturday 1 June, we had the opportunity to travel to the Cyaruzinge Village to partake in Umuganda, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month as a way to build a sense of community.  This was the most impoverished village we have been to yet as it is home to a historically disadvantaged demographic in Rwanda.  Many individuals lacked proper shoes and healthcare.  Due to malnutrition from a diet lacking in protein and vitamins, the average height and size for some of the children was considerably lower than what it would have been for their age. 

                The service consisted of us clearing rocks from a field in order to allow the community to designate a space for children to play in.  The rocks we brought from the field were brought to different piles; from there, the community will reuse these rocks in order to build houses.  All members of the community assisted in the effort and many of us utilized the help of the eager children from the community.  Many of the adults in the community stared and laughed at our attempts to move the rocks, but we still felt a sense of accomplishment.  Having red dirt under our fingernails and sweat ringing our necks put us on a semblance of equality with the Rwandans.  Avoiding paternalism in service work is a practice many group members strive towards so this was especially rewarding.  While clearing rocks from a field is not necessarily a great task, the fact that Rwandans had the chance to see Americans attempting to take part in Umuganda was definitely positive.  After service, the community’s leader explained why we were there.  He explained how the Americans were here as part of a Peace Building Institute and we wanted to partake in Umuganda as part of our process in understanding Rwandan culture.  While we were fortunate enough to return to our lodging and reap the benefits of a shower and a hearty lunch, we remained conscious of the fact that the work we engaged in is a fact of life for many people in this country.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Beginning of PBI and Gisozi

May 28th-May 31st

On May 28th we finally began theculmination of our trip, The Peace Building institute facilitated by Never Again Rwanda. One of the main goals of this program is to learn what Rwanda can teach the world. On the first day, two of the student participants, one from Utah and one from here in Rwanda, participated in a very interesting social experiment which helped with the discussion of our first topic. The two participants acted out a culture, that from a western perspective seemed to be very patriarchal. This was not actually the case. The following link provides a description as well as a discussion of this exercises importance. As we learned and the link describes the purpose of this experiment was to awaken us to a different lens through which new cultures can be observed. Instead of bringing in our own preconceived notions we must observe new cultures from a fresh perspective, taking in account any and every possibility. It helps to imagine culture as an iceberg; what is outwardly observed is only the tip, only by looking underneath can one observe the truth.

Later on that day we visited Gisozi Genocide Memorial and Museum in Kigali. Kelly will be uploading a description as soon as she is finished writing it.

The next day the Peace Building Institute brought us to one of the organiations that the Rwandan government has constructed in order to rebuild peace within their country. The organization is referred to by the acronym CNLG which stands for the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide. The main goal of this institution is to prevent and fight against genocide ideology and address Genocides consequences in and out of Rwanda. While at CNLG we spoke with Odette, an official in the research department, who helped us understand the importance of this institute as well as its structure and functions. Please follow this link to their website for more information . When we returned from CNLG we performed a SWOT analysis of this institution. SWOT stands for; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Later that day we heard from a speaker named Karengera Ildephonse. This gentleman discussed the history of Rwanda before during and after the Rwandan Genocide Against the Tutsi. Following the lecture by Mr. Ildephonse we  viewed a documentary title "Sharing the Past, Shaping the Future"

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ntarama and Nyamata

On May 26, 2014 we visited two genocide memorials in the Bugesera district: Ntarama and Nyamata. These memorials lay just outside of Kigali and were only a short drive from our hotel. Kelly has been writing descriptions for each memorial that we visit, so we will post the story of each memorial that we visit. Below are the stories for Ntarama and Nyamata.

Urwibutso Rwa Ntarama (Ntarama Memorial):

     The small town of Ntarama lays in the district of Bugesera, just outside of Kigali. When driving through this quaint area, one would not suspect that more than 5,000 people were killed. As we arrived at the gates of the Ntarama church, Bellancilla Uwitonze greeted us and began to lead us through the memorial as she narrated the atrocities that had occurred in the area.  In 1992, Habyarimana’s government used the interahamwe to practice efficient killing methods for the genocide. In the Bugesera district, Tutsis fled to the churches to seek refuge from their hunters. During this “practice massacre”, the only people who survived were those who had fled to the churches. 
In 1994, Tutsis fled to the churches expecting the same protection that they had received in the previous years. However, this time the interahamwe and other radical Hutu groups had been instructed to use churches as a way to concentrate their victims. Because the Tutsis had previously been protected by the churches, there was no forceful concentration of victims in Ntarama; they were already there. Within the compound, there are 4 buildings; three small houses and one larger church. Because so many people were trying to hide, all four buildings were used for refuge. 
     On April 15, 1994, the killers surrounded the church compound in Ntarama. Initially, grenades and guns were used to carry out the killings, while machetes were used to kill those who had survived the initial attacks. In the first house, students were shot to death. In the next house, people were trapped inside and set on fire before having one wall of the house knocked down on top of their bodies. In the third house, children had hidden where they had previously attended Sunday School. The killers murdered the children by swinging them from their ankles and bashing their heads against the wall. The blood stain still marks the area that children were killed in. 
     After the genocide, Ntarama was transformed into a memorial. In the church, you can see the bones of some of the people who were killed, the clothes and belongings of those victims, an identity card, and some of the weapons used by the killers. At the alter, a cloth has the words “Iyo umenya nawe ukimenya ntuba waranyishe”, meaning “If you knew me and you know yourself you would not kill me”. In addition, the compound has an area for meditation and counseling, as well as a wall with the names of some of the victims who died at Ntarama. Between this area and the main gate stands a protected flame that represents the remembrance of those who died in the Bugesera District during the genocide. The sides of the box that surround this flame are labelled with two strong messages: “urumuri rw’icyizere” (flame of hope) and “urumuri rutazima” (flame always).  

     This memorial is a constant reminder of the atrocities that took place in Ntarama during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. As a student who has spent three years learning about Rwandan culture and history, I find that the most difficult part of travelling to the various memorials is knowing that people who have lost everything can rebuild and move forward, while people in other parts of the world cannot resolve their petty disputes. How can a person, or even a culture, who has experienced genocide even begin to forgive so openly? This is a question that constantly sticks to the back of my mind as we discuss reconciliation and peacebuilding. It is truly amazing that Rwanda has come so far in a mere twenty years. 

Urwibutso Rwa Nyamata (Nyamata Memorial):

     The Nyamata memorial is just a short distance from the memorial in Ntarama. Similar to the neighboring memorial site, the massacres at Nyamata occurred in and around a church. Leading us through this memorial was Leon Muberuka. The high concentration of individuals who hid inside of the church was due to the safety that they had found during the 1992 massacres within churches. During this “rehearsal genocide”, Italian missionary Tonia Lacatelli was killed for protecting the Tutsis who had sought refuge within the church.
     On April 15, 1994 more than 10,000 people were killed in the Nyamata Church. When the genocidaires arrived at the church, they used grenades to blast through the locked gates, and guns to shoot through the windows of the church. Once inside the church, the killers used a red, metal cross to beat people to death, as well as machetes to cut their victims. As with other instances of massacres, rape was used as a tool of war to humiliate women and infect them with HIV/AIDS.
    After the genocide, the Rwandan government decided to dedicate this site as a memorial for the victims who were killed in Nyamata. Within the church, a lower level was constructed to display some of the victims’ bones and the coffin where a young woman’s body rests. During the massacres, Mukanaoli Annonciata, 26, was raped by 15 men before she was killed. After her death, the men drove a spear through her vagina and up through her skull to display what they had done. She rests within a coffin, the spear still through her body, to represent all of the women who suffered the way that she did. In a garden behind the church, there are four mass graves which house the remains of approximately 45,000 victims from Nyamata and the surrounding areas.

    The memorial at Nyamata reminds us of those who suffered there. In this church, entire families were killed. The only things that we have to prove they existed are their bones, clothes, and some personal belongings. It is in places like this where genocide denial is combated. Without these memorials, the families who have been lost might be forgotten.

Nyungwe Forest and Murambi Memorial

May 24-25

On Saturday May 24, we traveled to Nyungwe National Forest, which is a large rainforest protected by the Rwandan government. While this forest is protected, the Rwandan government encourages ecotourism within the villages that surround Nyungwe and the forest itself. When you visit the forest, you have the option of taking several different trails. The two shorter trails take about 1-2 hours, and one provides you with an option to walk on a bridge over the canopy. The longer trail takes more than 4 hours, but gives you an opportunity to hike deep into the forest and possibly see chimpanzees, howler monkeys, and many other species that are endemic to Nyungwe.

On our way back from Nyungwe, we stopped at possibly the harshest of genocide memorials in Rwanda: Murambi. Below is a description that Kelly has written for one of her research projects:

       When The Genocide Against the Tutsi began on April 7, 1994, targeted individuals were told to seek refuge in the compound where a new secondary school was being constructed. When more than 50,000 Tutsis were concentrated into this area, military forces surrounded the compound and locked the gates. For approximately two weeks, the Tutsis within this area were deprived of food and water while they unknowingly waited to be exterminated by the Interahamwe. On April 21, 1994, the weakened Tutsis made an attempt at resistance against the armed forces sent to destroy them. With only rocks to use as weapons, the resistance was quickly subdued. Between the hours of 3am and 11am, more than 50,000 Tutsis were killed and only 12 individuals were left to tell of the massacre that occurred at Murambi.
When the genocidaires attempted to cover up the atrocities that had occurred, they threw the bodies of their victims into 5 mass graves. In June, the French arrived in Murambi as a result of Operation Turquoise. The few survivors left their hiding places and ran to the French in search of assistance, but were instead denied the help that they deserved. In addition to their refusal to help the survivors, French troops built a volleyball court near the freshly dug mass graves. The lack of respect shown to the French in Rwanda is obviously well deserved from these few facts. 
After the genocide, the site of the Murambi massacres was chosen to be transformed into a memorial that would combat genocide denial, as well as educate the youth about the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. These goals were to be achieved in several ways. First, the informal mass graves were uncovered and the bodies were given a formal burial in mass graves at another area within the compound. Within this cemetery, approximately 35,000 victims are buried and one grave has been left open to house the remains that are still being uncovered. Perhaps the most controversial topic at Murambi is the display of 1,000 bodies that have been preserved in lyme. These bodies are housed in 3 buildings that had previously been intended to serve as classrooms. Although the Murambi memorial is possibly one of the hardest to go through, it both educates you on the history of Rwanda, as well as shows you how Rwandans have chosen to remember the mass atrocities that culminated into the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. 
“When they said ‘Never again’ after the Holocaust, was this meant for some people and not for others?”  –Apollon Kabahizi (survivor of Murambi massacres)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lake Kivu

May 18-20th
Over the last couple of days we have been spending some time traveling in the Karongi District. The major city that we stayed in is called Kibuye. The city is located on Lake Kivu. This is the biggest lake in Rwanda, it is a beautiful and magnificent area. The hotel that we stayed at was called Hotel Bethany. It was a very nice place to stay and we were able to relax on peace island.

Friday, May 23, 2014


May 21-23
Our next adventure took us from Kigali to the town of Butare. Some of our group took public transportation to get here so that there would be room in the van that we hired for our 9 large bags of donations. This was a very fun experience.

Once we arrived into town we checked into Hotel Du Mont Huye and explored the town for a bit. The hotel is located very close to the main street which makes navigating and exploring this bustling Rwandan city pretty easy. The next day we visited the boys and girls orphanages in Butare. Here we distributed some of the donations  that we were able to raise in  the United States. The children, as well as us, cannot express enough how deep our gratitude is for the people who donated items. We took many pictures during our visits, but they will have to be posted at a later time, please excuse the inconvenience. Little or no internet connection is part of life here, and learning to deal with that is a large part of our experience.

 The day after visiting the orphanage we took the rest of our donations to L'Ecole Primaire Du Butare. This is the school that has been rebuilt by the Friends of Butare Organization. The link to their website is located on this blog. We personally visited each classroom from the nursery to primary to secondary classes we handed each and every student a piece of candy as well as the school supplies that were donated to us. Again pictures of the school and the distribution of donations will be coming soon.


Kibuye, Bisesero, and Nyange

May 18-20th
Over the last couple of days we have been spending some time traveling in the Karongi District. The major city that we stayed in is called Kibuye. The city is located on Lake Kivu. This is the largest lake in Rwanda, it is a beautiful and magnificent area. The hotel that we stayed at was called Hotel Bethany. While staying in Kibuye we ventured to visit a genocide memorial called Bisesero. Our guide book told us that the memorial would be approximately a 30km away from the town, which would seem to be a short drive, this was not the case. It took more than two hours driving on very bumpy roads, but we finally arrived at our destination. The long bumpy drive was facilitated by our excellent driver, and it was well worth it in the end. Bisesero is the site where the largest resistance effort took place during the Rwandan genocide. Here is a link to more information on this memorial

. The memorial was being renovated when we arrived but we were still able to get a tour and our guide gave us an understanding of what it will be when it is finished. In traditional memorials Rwandans emphasize the display of the victims bones. It was hard to see this for all of us, however by seeing the bones of victims we were able to better understand what took place on this hillside. We have all been studying this genocide for months, but seeing the victims bones made it disturbingly real. We spent the following day on the shores of peace island in order to debrief from our experience. Below is a description that Kelly has written for a research project, she will return to Bisesero on June 27th for the commemoration ceremony:

     Bisesero is the site of the largest resistance that took place during the Rwandan Genocide. For three months, approximately 50,000-60,000 fought courageously against the interahamwe with weapons such as spears, rocks, and a few guns that were taken from their enemies. The leaders of this group were A. Birara and his son, who had previously been shepherds (umushumba) in the community. Unfortunately, when the resistance began to run out of food, the genocidaires gained an upper hand. Of the 50,000-60,000 brave men and women who fought for their lives at Bisesero, a mere 1,300 survived the massacres. 
     The memorial that was created to remember the great acts of courage that were displayed at Bisesero sits atop a hill, overlooking the rolling hills and valleys that make up the western part of Rwanda. The memorial itself houses the remains of the individuals who perished while fighting for their lives. Within one part of the memorial, there are three individual graves and four mass graves. The individual graves house the remains of the resistance leader, the leader’s son, and an unidentified soldier who represents those who perpetrated the genocide. Although our guide did not directly tell us why this last grave was included, I have thought that its presence may represent the movement towards national unity within Rwanda. In addition to the graves, there is a building that has nine rooms. Within each room, the bones of individuals who fled to Bisesero from the nine sectors within the former Kibuye district are displayed. As pointed out by our guide, who was also a survivor, the bones can tell you how that person was killed (clubs, machetes, fire, or bullets).
     This memorial is a solemn reminder of what people are capable of doing to each other. Those who were once peaceful neighbors became enemies, and thousands of innocent men, women, and children lost their lives as a result of human ignorance. The experience that I have had visiting Bisesero reminds me, and others as well, that we all have the capacity and responsibility to prevent acts of genocide and mass atrocity from occurring. 

On our way back to Kigali we stopped at a local memorial called Nyange. While here, we were guided through the memorial's history by an individual who survived and experienced it himself. This is very rare, and our gratitude for the experience is boundless. We were all deeply moved and the experience will stay with us forever. Kelly has recently been working with the survivor who led us through the memorial to document his story and what had happened in Nyange.

We must apologize again for the sparsity of posts thus far. While attempting to post this information the cafe we were in experienced a power loss. This is something that often happens here. Nobody is in great distress when it occurs and we have learned to adapt in order to fully experience Rwandan culture. Internet connection at the moment is also very slow so pictures will have to be posted at a later time.