Today, April 7, 2014, is the 20th anniversary of the day the Rwandan genocide officially began. Those next days 100 days in 1994 would be days far beyond our own perception of hell.
From April 7, 1994 to July 4, 1994, one million people, men, women, and children were brutally tortured, raped, and murdered by the people they formally referred to as friends and neighbors, and even family. With very little automatic weapons, the far majority of the murders were conducted using dull garden machetes and clubs, making those 100 days that much more barbaric.
Source: The Guardian
When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) finally took control and halted the genocide, the country was in shambles, to say the least. Decaying bodies filled the streets. The rivers were blood red, spotted with floating corpses. Hundreds and thousands of children no longer had parents or homes, and the RPF, lead by now President Paul Kagame, was barely hanging on to control. By all predictions and precedent, Rwanda would become a failed state. As Philip Gourevitch, author of “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” wrote, “No one thought Rwanda would survive.”
A mass grave at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. 250,000 people are buried here.
Rwanda, though, did not become a failed state. She did indeed survive. In fact, Rwanda has thrived far past any expert’s wildest imagination, and I’m lucky enough to work there.
I first traveled to Rwanda in October of 2013 on a vision trip with our partner Land of 1000 Hills Coffee CO. What I saw when I arrived in this tiny country, no larger than the state of New Jersey, took my breath away. Kigali, the country’s capital city, is the cleanest city I have ever been to, and in 2007, it was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags. There are brick sidewalks, street lights, and new construction. Few people even mentioned the genocide. Discussions about leadership, development, the daily futbol (soccer) updates dominated bus stop and dinner table chatter. I felt lucky to be there, lucky to witness such unmatched resilience, perseverance, and most of all, forgiveness.
All of our farmers are survivors of the genocide, and some I’m sure were even perpetrators, but we do not ask.
During our three-week visit this past January, we had the privilege of visiting the homes of the twenty farmers in our program. I asked each of them the same two questions: How will you use the income our program will generate and what do you love most about your country. The answers were remarkable. Every single farmer said they will use the money for school fees for the children. And for my second question, every person said above all else, that they love the peace they have in their country. Odette Bayisemge, a woman I have become particularly attached to, said, “When you have peace, nothing else matters.” Another farmer, Stony Nsanzamahoro said, “When you go to bed at night trusting no one will kill you in your sleep, you feel you have the freedom to develop, to make life better for you family, for it should not be taken from you tomorrow.”
Odette with her two sons, Savier (left) and Sabine (right)
When speaking with our farmers, you quickly realize that they will succeed with or without our program. If they are accepted into our program, they will succeed much faster, and that is why we work there. Our farmers have allowed us to work in their country. They have invited us into their story, not the other way around. Having already survived the unimaginable, they are ready to be self-sufficient, to give their children an incomparable quality of life than the one they knew as children. They expect nothing to be done for them, but when they are given the opportunity to double their income in three years, to send all of their children to school, put food on the table, even afford medical insurance, they are accepting and grateful.
Some of our farmers’ children.
You see, the genocide didn’t happen over night. Building tensions circulated for years, and while the West knew about it, they did nothing to stop, what many argue, they themselves actually created. That is a long and complicated history lesson which I will not go into at this time. I feel tremendously undeserving to have the opportunity to be a part of their success, when I wasn’t there during their pain, but I am humbled by their willingness to allow the Kula Project to come alongside them.
The first 20 farmers in our Rwandan program.
Today starts a week of mourning in Rwanda, and 100 days from now, when our country celebrates Independence Day, Rwandans will celebrate Liberation Day, the genocide’s end. Twenty years have now past, and no one thought Rwanda would survive, but she did.
The Rwandan genocide was a systematic, nationwide attempt, lead by the Hutu majority to exterminate the country’s Tutsi minority. Over the course of 100 days, one million people lost their lives.