This month marks 19 years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed an estimated one million people in the span of 100 days, devastating the country and its people. While remembrance events are held globally throughout the month of April, it is in our land-locked East African country where tributes are felt at the deepest, most profound level. As the Country Director for Akilah and a native Rwandan, I knew the importance of our students taking pause to reflect on this tragic part of our history.
Akilah’s faculty coordinated a visit to a genocide memorial site at Nyamata Church in Rwanda’s Bugesera District, a 45-minute drive south of the capital of Kigali. Arriving at the memorial site, we were met by Leon Muberuka, the church manager, who explained in painful and vivid details the atrocious acts that occurred less than two decades ago in the very church where we stood.
“Fight to live, live for them,” said Leon to Akilah’s young women, many genocide survivors themselves. It was a message filled with pain and grief that left us all speechless, despite my efforts to find a consolation message to comfort our students. As a Rwandan, I thought that I was relatively attuned to my country’s reality, but I had proven myself wrong—19 years later and the wound is still fresh for the survivors of the genocide against Tutsis.
We continued our walk through the memorial site in silence, passing old weapons, benches piled with clothes and blood stained walls. Approaching the altar we attempted to pray; yet we failed to find peace amidst chaos, death and despair. Instead, we lit our candles and stood in the stillness.
In moments like these where our internal strength wavers, I am gratefully reminded of the incredible rebound my country has made. Overcoming the past atrocities, Rwanda has emerged as an example for hope, peace and innovative economic development. At Akilah, we are investing in the education of the most promising future professionals and leaders East Africa. With the Business Diplomas they receive, our graduates enter the workforce poised to help rebuild the nation they hold such optimism for. We know that educated women will create a ripple effect ensuring future social and economic stability for their families, communities and Rwanda.
Upon our return from the memorial site visit, I looked around at our students and the unbelievable reconciliation process they have undergone. More than ever before, I am convinced that through educating and empowering young women we will be able to talk about our history, write our stories of survival and make sure that future generations carry on the message of NEVER AGAIN. 19 years after the genocide against Tutsis, Rwanda is fighting to live and Akilah is proudly part of the fight.