We drove from Gisenyi back to Kigali. En route we stopped briefly at an orphanage. We were ushered first into a room lined with a row of cribs where newborns were sleeping. In the next room infants were all being fed by several very dedicated women. The next room was filled with dozens of toddlers. As soon as we walked into the room, the children swarmed – competing for our attention and scrambling eagerly to be lifted up into our arms.
When we later debriefed our visit to the orphanage, some team members said it felt like a kind of voyeurism and that the visit made them feel like shit. I had a different experience though. The children showed me the purity and sincerity of the desire to be loved and to belong. As I picked up each child, I thought about how every one of them matters. Everyone longs to belong, to be affirmed, to be uplifted. How can I lift up others? What is the status of orphans in Canada? How can pro-lifers be more proactive in serving orphans in North America?
We continued our journey to Kigali, with a brief stop for beef samosas.
After lunch in Kigali we stopped at Camp Kigali and visited a memorial site commemorating ten Belgian soldiers who were killed. We drove by the president’s house and then arrived to Hotel Milles Collines.
The film “Hotel Rwanda” was inspired by events that took place during the genocide at Hotel Milles Collines. Also, I had begun reading the book “A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali” that morning and so it was amazing to, in the evening, be standing at that pool.
At Hotel Milles Collines we sat on the patio, ordered coffees, and then had a visit with an inspiring young man named Yannick. In 1994, Yannick was four years old. He told us that his childhood was idyllic. He had a loving family. “Initially, I had everything,” Yannick said, “But then, everything changed.”During the genocide, Yannick’s mother wanted to protect him from learning about the killings and so she told him that they were going to Grandma’s house for holidays. At first Yannick’s whole family was going to stick together, but then it was reasoned that the family should separate so that if anything happened to some members, the family would still be preserved somewhat.
When the family divided, Yannick went with his mother. His father, three-year-old sister, and one-year-old brother separated. Yannick walked with his mother for three weeks with almost no food. He contrasted this experience to his childhood before the genocide during which he said that he had never walked more than twenty minutes and had always gotten three meals a day.Yannick’s mother tried to suppress her son’s endless questions about what was happening. They came upon a young man who Yannick’s family had cared for as a son, but this man said that he would kill her because she is a Tutsi. Yannick’s mother paid him money to not be killed by him.
Meanwhile, Yannick’s little sister had been found by a Hutu woman who had taken her in. In an attempt to mitigate risk, the Hutu woman hid the girl in a deep well where she survived for two months before being rescued. “A dog found a kid who looked dead in the well and it was my baby sister,” explained Yannick.
Yannick’s grandfather was killed and his body was put in a latrine. Houses were burned. Animals were stolen. Yannick’s infant brother was smashed against a wall and his grandmother was forced to drink the baby’s blood. Yannick is my age. I marveled at his courage in telling us his story. His strength is incredible.
Yannick’s father was in the RPF and helped to end the genocide. However, the first time that Yannick saw his father again was 1996.
Yannick told us that, as he grew up, he wanted to learn everything. When he was eleven-years-old he decided to help prevent genocide from ever happening again. He realized that his key resource was his time and so he began volunteering and working to combat bullying. “If you start bullying each other, then you’ll start killing each other,” Yannick said urgently.
I asked Yannick whether or not he forgave the killers. He said that hating the killers was killing him and so he made a choice to forgive and has to consciously continue to affirm that decision in order to continue healing. He says, “I realized that you can’t put the country together with hatred.”
Recently Yannick completed an internship during which he managed Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s twitter. “I don’t fear any door,” he said, “I always knock and then I walk through.” There was no internship position, but he sent a letter and resume to the president and got a job.
Yannick says that Rwanda is a school where people can come and learn important lessons. What can we learn from the genocide against Tutsi? How can you take responsibility and make a difference in your community? What can we learn from Yannick about courage, service, and forgiveness?
In gratitude for their support of this trip, this post is dedicated to Jana Drapal and the Diocesan Office of Social Justice in Calgary.