“I’d really like to know what my friends are going through. How is it for you during this commemoration period?”
That is a question that awoke my intellect and got me thinking deeper on the relevance of commemoration in my own experience. It also made me take the conversation a little bit further and ask my friends and peers if they ever took time to think about it, and what was the meaning of commemoration on their side.
Answering the question wasn’t hard. In fact, my answer was straight as if I had noted it somewhere before.
Twenty-three years have gone by, but we still have wounds and battle scars haven’t disappeared yet. Albeit, the commemoration period for me is no longer a moment of sorrow and despair; gone are the days where I used to focus only on what I lost.
Now I am on a road to success, and when the commemoration period starts, to me, it’s a reminder that my family was cut and that I cannot afford to be lazy. These one hundred days remind me that I have to grab each opportunity with both hands and work twice as I should, since I am not working with a full team that should have been by my side if the genocide against the Tutsi had not happened.
However, it’s not always clear sky during this period. Every family, if not every person, have their darkest moments. Some can relate to a certain, exact date or hour when their loved ones were taken and they were helpless. Mine would be that time when we mourn my father, and by the end of the day we beg anyone who might have information, on where he and my uncle were dumped, to come to us and help us give them a decent burial that every human being deserves.
Those were my words. And they led my interest in knowing what young people like me are going through and how they relate to commemoration after all these years.
Everyone I asked didn’t come up with an answer. For some, it was too personal to tell and others simply hadn’t given too much thought to the topic until I asked them. But those who had thought about it put it quite interestingly.
Zilfa Irakoze, a university student in the U.S., told me commemoration is important for history not to repeat itself.
“We remember so that one day we might not forget that such an atrocity happened to our country or the generation after might commit the same mistakes and fall into the same pit,” she said. “And as a genocide survivor, I do remember my family on a daily basis and the commemoration period is my country’s way to honor them and give them the respect that was taken from them.”
Most important, she explained, it is time for me to assess my progress as a survivor, and ask myself if they would be proud of the person I have become.
Another peer of mine, Bruce Ntwari, who is a blogger and debater, told me remembrance goes beyond names:
“Kwibuka for me is an opportunity to not only remember my loved ones’ names but also think of ways to keep those names alive, to think about their legacy and work to sustain it. It also a moment to reflect and ask myself what went wrong, and where exactly, throughout our history. And, finally, how we are making sure it never happens again.”
Another, a good friend of mine who prefer to remain anonymous, argued on the importance of learning and understanding history, and building on progress.
“If the theme this year highlights the idea of building on our progress, it is in accordance to what we have already achieved; which is why we must stay focused and keep adding to it,” they said. “But commemoration is also a time to freshen our knowledge of history and dig deeper for a change.”
With this, I have a feeling that young people in Rwanda are almost on the same page. Most of us have this drive to move forward, with ambitions and aspirations that go beyond ourselves, ethnicity and genocide ideology.
While it is true that a number of cases of genocide ideology have emerged recently, some involving the youth population, the battle against this ideology remains a tough one and we must remain persistent.
Many young people are still stuck in poverty and idleness — with unfortunate cases where they have enough time to listen to their parents who teach them hate. It is everyone’s responsibility to get them out of their parents’ mentality of hate. Only then they will be able to peacefully follow their dreams and aspirations, and achieve success.
For us whose hearts remain strong and whose dreams are unshakable, let the commemoration period also be a time to reflect on this.
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