As the US celebrated the 4th of July with hotdogs, barbecues and fireworks, Rwanda also celebrated with a national holiday. That date marked the end of the Rwandan Genocide, and it was16 years ago yesterday since the central African country’s liberation. The 100-day Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of 800,000 people according to a Human Rights Watch estimate. The massacres left several hundred thousand children either orphaned or separated from their parents and thousands of schools were destroyed along with most of the country’s infrastructure. Even now women and children are still suffereing the consequences.
Rwebare school in the cut-off farming village of Nyamikamba, was one of the many burned down for sheltering Tutsi refugees. Dozens of families died in its classrooms and its football pitch was littered with bodies left by the Hutu mob. The children in the village are dirt poor and have slim chances of escaping the cycle of poverty they were born into. Ten years later, the levelled school buildings were rebuilt and children squeezed into broken classrooms without roofs, chairs, desks or books. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 pupils aged six to 14 came to sit on the floor, desperate to learn.
That year, with the help of British donors, the work of the aid organisation, Oxfam and the village’s own determination, the school rose from the ashes. Cash from a Brits answering a an appeal by the Daily Mirror newspaper paid for eight new classrooms, chairs, desks, blackboards and books. And six years later, as Rwanda celebrated its Liberation yesterday with its own national holiday, Rwebare School is thriving. It has grown from 1,015 pupils in 2005 to 1,666. There are 860 boys and 806 girls aged seven to 17, taught by 36 teachers. It now teaches O-levels to 246 children, preparing them for A-levels and potentially university. Some pupils have to walk as far as 5km to get there but are seldom late for class. Each room is packed with 45 to 50 students, four or five to a desk. Until she was 10 years old, Odette didn't go to school because she was embarrassed that she didn’t have a uniform and had to look after her brothers and sisters while her parents worked in the fields. But now 15, she dreams of training as a doctor. Two of Odette's brothers died from illness and she wants to protect her other three young brothers and sister. "I want to be a doctor so I can help people," she told the newspaper. "Many times in my family there is illness, many have had malaria and I would like to make them better."