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Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat 2010: Day #1

We welcomed our Rwanda retreat partners and participants today at our retreat headquarters at the Presbyterian Church Guesthouse in Kigali. We held our retreat orientation and first council (listening circle). Sharing our hearts and exploring indigenous Rwandan terms together for our bearing witness retreat methodology we quickly jelled in to a community of peacemakers. After an early dinner, we traveled to the headquarters of IBUKA, the umbrella NGO for Rwandan survivor organizations throughout the country, to participate in the memorial of Nyanza Kicukiro mass murders during the 1994 genocide. 5000 Rwandans had sought refuge at the Ecole Technique Officielle (Technical School) where they were supposed to be protected by the U.N. forces (UNAMIR). When the U.N. pulled out, the militias and hard line government troops moved in to massacre the refugees. Rather than kill them at the Technical School, they decided to drive them up a long road to garbage dumps at a place called Nyanza Kicukiro, saying these Tutsi’s are garbage so let’s kill them there. Once they had them all at the garbage dump they started throwing grenades into their midst and then finished the killing with machetes, guns and spears. Out of the 5000 refugees, only 80 survived, a few escaping and most lying among the dead and taken for dead until the rebel forces (RPF) arrived to rescue them. There were over 7,500 people at the memorial site this evening where they have three mass graves containing the remains of over 4,800 victims. They have begun inscribing the names of the victims they have been able to identify on long walls facing the mass graves. Our Peacemaker retreat staff visiting the site and the IBUKA offices for meeting this past Friday. Tonight we participated in a 5 hour ceremony that included survivor testimony, history presentations, music and singing, and various speeches.

Retreat leaders Fleet Maull and Genro Gauntt were invited to lay flowers on the graves along with the other dignitaries and survivors in attendance. Fleet Maull spoke to the large crowd over 7,500 people along with the Minister of Culture, the Kigali mayor and other dignitaries. The event was televised on national TV and covered by all the news stations. We arrived back out our guesthouse quarters at 11:30 pm, tired and shocked by the images of the genocide shared by survivors, but warmed and heartened by the music and songs of the Rwandan people coming together with such courage to remember and heal this horrific tragedy. The theme of the evening as organized by IBUKA was the failure of the U.N. and the International Community to protect the Rwandan people and these refugees during the transition to a unity government, a failure that emboldened the hardliners to perpetrate the 1994 genocide.

The plunge into not knowing and bearing witness has begun. Tomorrow we will start with council groups and then spend the day at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, followed by an evening of deep council and dialog.

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