After attending church and sharing a relaxed lunch back at the ALARM Training Center, our team loaded up and headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. From the time Dr. Betty Gilmore envisioned this trip for us, this was the moment that we had the most questions about. How do we come to understand one hundred days of history in this small country where ordinary citizens were persuaded to join military forces in the brutal murders of their neighbors and friends?
The Kigali Center, one of several genocide memorials in Rwanda, is a somber place. Our team slowly made its way through turn after turn of narrow halls packed with photographs and the stories of that dark time in history. Cold, calculating individuals manufactured this slaughter set within the context of a Rwandan civil war. Slowly at first, propaganda achieved its inevitable purpose as a tribe of people, the Tutsis, were targeted as undesirable and labeled as insignificant. The consistent cry was heard across the nation — “Kill the cockroaches!” When the genocide finally ended, close to 1 million Rwandans were dead.
Toward the end of the exhibits were three rooms that cut deep into our souls. In the first were displayed countless human skulls, bones, and some of the weapons that were used to maim, torture, and kill. In the second were thousands of pictures of individuals who died. No stories. Just family photos clipped to string after string after string. Each picture a story and a sharp pain in our consciousness.
The last of the three exhibits was most likely the most chilling. Through several rooms, large photograph enlargements were accompanied by simple plaques that provided the name, the favorite foods and activities of the little children who were killed alongside their parents or hunted down like animals. Oh, and one other item on those plaques — the method by which each child had been executed.
The Kigali Center is built on the side of a hill looking back toward the downtown area. Outside the center, on its grounds, are buried some of the victims of the genocide. Two hundred fifty thousand is what we’re told. As Dan pointed out, in the space provided, it would be difficult to have 250,000 people standing close together, much less buried. Yet, that small piece of land that we trudged over in less than an hour, is the final resting place of a quarter million people. We left that area dazed and wished the story was make believe — a horror story.
We were uplifted a few minutes later when we visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines. This Belgian luxury hotel was where hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were sheltered by a caring hotelier, a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi. Known popularly as “Hotel Rwanda” because of the movie by that name, we were reminded of the fact that, even in horrible times, the goodness and the resolve of individuals stands as a testament to the greater good that God has placed in all of us.
In the days to come, we know that we will see the great effort being made by the Rwandan people to claim that greater good.