The twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda
by Janice Ross
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider the need for reconciliation in many areas of the world.
Preparation and materials
- The Rwandan story in steps 3 onwards is taken from God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi (Attria, 2011).
- Write the quote from Martin Luther King (Strength to Love, Fortress, 2010), given in the ’Assembly’, Step 4, on a whiteboard so that the students can see it.
- Tell the following story.
An old rabbi once asked his pupils this question. ‘How can you tell when night ends and when day begins?’
Ask the students for any suggestions they may have, then continue with the story.
One of the students suggested, ‘Perhaps when you see an animal in the distance and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?’
‘No’, answered the rabbi.
‘Perhaps when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree’, offered another student.
‘No’, answered the rabbi.
‘Then what is the answer?’ the pupils asked.
‘It is when you can look in the face of any man or woman and see that it is your brother or sister. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.’
Ask for the students’ thoughts on the rabbi’s answer. What did he mean by this?
- Explain that ‘it is still night’ for many people in many countries of the world. It is still night in many communities in our own country. It can still be night in our school, in our homes and in our families.
We can often do very little to change things in countries and places and for people far away, but we can often do something to change the situations around us.
Consider what might bring the ‘day’ and ‘light’. What the rabbi said suggested it is reaching an understanding that we are all human, we all need love, acceptance and approval, we all need to learn to forgive and be forgiven.
- Explain that this story was taken from a book called God Sleeps in Rwanda. It is the story of the genocide that took place in Rwanda 20 years ago. Some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in the course of only 90 days. The author of the book, Joseph Sebarenzi, lost his parents, seven brothers and sisters and other family members.
- What made this such an atrocity was that it was not a foreign enemy taking all these lives, but neighbours, workmates and colleagues who rose up against those of another tribe. The Hutu tribe was trying to wipe out the Tutsi tribe. We call this genocide.
On returning to Rwanda to help rebuild his country, Joseph states:
I began to realize that life in Rwanda would not be as I had envisioned: a blissful place where the guilty would be brought to justice and the innocent would rebuild. There were too many guilty. Most important, I realized that we had to find a way to forgive and move on. No, we had to find a way to forgive so we could move on.
- It was easy in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide for people to be tolerant of those who sought revenge, but revenge always perpetuates the cycle of violence.
Draw attention to the quote from Martin Luther King displayed on the whiteboard.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
- In the years since the genocide, many nations have helped Rwanda to bring about peace and reconciliation. Mass murderers have been brought to justice, but thousands of ordinary people are trying to come to terms with what they did to others who were their friends and neighbours. Surviving friends and neighbours are trying to offer forgiveness and live side by side again with those who killed so many of their loved ones.
Many Rwandans have not yet reached a place where they can ‘look in the face of any man or woman and see that it is your brother or sister.’ For them it is still a very painful night.
Time for reflection
Reflect on your attitudes towards those around you, family, friends.
What about your attitudes towards any enemies. Is it still night for you?
It is hard to forgive others when they wrong us.
We pray especially for the country of Rwanda today.
May its people move forward together in peace and reconciliation.
We ask for acceptance and peace among the many different groups of people and pray for wisdom for the government of the nation.