Last Thursday, April 19th, marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah. This day is a national memorial day in Israel, and serves to commemorate the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Signed into law in 1953 by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and President Ben-Zvi of Israel, the date was chosen to observe the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943.
Moved by this holiday, and due to Rwanda’s own past, the students of Akilah took the initiative to coordinate a field trip amongst themselves to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Thirty senior students planned to travel from the Akilah campus to downtown Kigali to pay their respects at the Centre, a not-for-profit museum dedicated to honoring the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. They not only proactively come up with the idea, but also made arrangements such as transportation and the purchase of flowers to be presented at the mass grave site. One of the students, Salama, was nominated to give a prayer after the dedication of the flowers. The students also collected donations from the Akilah students and staff totaling 50,000 Rwandan Francs, or roughly $80 USD, to contribute to the Centre’s genocide orphan fund.
At the memorial, a guide led the students through the rose gardens, explaining the significance of the designs and inscriptions throughout the site. We stopped at the Open Grave, where students Constance and Emmanuella laid the flower arrangement, and Salama recited the prayer the students collaboratively wrote beforehand. Afterwards we entered the museum, which displays exhibits explaining the political background and turmoil leading up to the genocide, the horrific acts that occurred during the genocide, the aftermath and consequences on the country, and how Rwandan society is successfully rebuilding its national strength and identity today.
Over a span of just 100 days in the spring of 1994, Rwanda lost one million people during the genocide. Many of the Akilah students have directly experienced the effects of the genocide, losing friends, brothers, sisters, and parents. The devastation of such an event, even 18 years later, is still visible in the students’ everyday lives, as they battle with the trauma and memories associated with their personal experiences. These circumstances make their progress and successes all the more impressive, as the students push forward and continue to work towards their goals for a brighter and better future.
We are incredibly proud of and impressed by our students, for not only the strength they show on a daily basis while juggling demanding coursework and jobs with the care of siblings and others who were orphaned during the genocide, but also the strength shown during their visit to the Centre. In order to appropriately provide professional support services to our students, Akilah has a full-time counselor, Julian Nyagahima, who also traveled to the Centre to help the students cope with facing such difficult memories.
We are grateful to our supporters and donors around the world who make it possible for us to give hope and a bright future to these strong young women.