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Remembering Rwanda's genocide

Even now, the genocide still influences how parents raise their children
Even now, the genocide still influences how parents raise their children

Anne-Marie was a patient, happy girl who spent her childhood at the SOS Children’s Village in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Like every girl, she had hopes and dreams; plans for the future. She died on 7th May, 1994. At just 20 years old, Anne-Marie was a victim of the Rwandan genocide. Two decades on, the whole nation remembers those whose lives were taken.

Anne-Marie was one of a group of six girls who fled Kigali shortly after Rwanda's genocide began. She and her friends sought shelter in the countryside, but were found when a local woman betrayed their hiding place. Today, Anne-Marie is a name on a stone at the Murambi Memorial Site in Nyamagabe province.

Neighbour against neighbour

Anne-Marie was one of 800,000 Rwandans who lost their lives between April and July 1994. The massacre began on 7th April; a day after President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash. President Habyarimana belonged to the majority Hutu ethnic group. After his death, Hutu extremists claimed his plane was shot down by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP), a rebel group led by the Tutsis, a minority ethnic group, although the RFP denied this claim. Over the following 100 days, extremist Hutu militias killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, supposedly in revenge for the alleged attack on the president's plane.

The killing pitted friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour, sometimes husband against wife. Such was the brutality of the militias, that many Hutus were compelled by the threat of death to take the lives of their Tutsi countrymen. In the town of Nyamata, 10,000 people were massacred as they sought shelter in the Catholic church. Rollcalls of those due to be executed were read out on propaganda radio stations set up by the extremists.

A group of children looking over hills in Rwanda
Rwanda is a place of great beauty, but the terrible events of 20 years ago will never be forgotten
The genocide ended in July, when the RFP seized Kigali, but the suffering was far from over. Two million Hutus had fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), fearing revenge killings. Former Hutu militia members were allegedly pursued and killed by the RFP, while thousands of refugees died of cholera in DRC.

Providing a home for those who survived

When the killing ended, SOS Children were there to provide a home for many of the children left alone by the killing. We opened a new Children’s Village in Byumba to care for some of these orphans. SOS mother Grace began caring for orphans of the genocide in 1995, before Byumba opened. She remembers a little boy called Yves, whose father had been killed before his eyes: “When he was in school he refused to write. He just drew pictures of machetes all the time. He didn’t speak. I kept him very close to me. I hugged him a lot.” Nothing can take Yves’ experience away from him, but Grace’s devotion helped ease his trauma and today, he goes to university.

Yves’ case is sadly not uncommon. Sometimes, the cruelty is incomprehensible. SOS mother Amida took in four children who survived the genocide. She remembers two year old Rose: “Her mother was killed in front of her children. Then the killers put Rose on her dead mother’s chest.” Counselling has helped Rose. “She is a happy girl,” says Amida. “You should see her.”

“They belong to Rwanda, Africa and the world”

Broaching the subject of genocide is hard, but sometimes children want to know what happened during those 100 days in 1994. Grace says she never raises the subject, but always answers questions when her children ask. As time passes, this is happening less and less. Nevertheless, it still informs the way she raises her children: “Today I have mostly young children in my family, so we don’t really talk about it. What I focus on is to help them avoid a mindset of hatred.”

For another SOS mother, Diane, the story is the same. Encouraging her children to overcome tribal allegiances is critical. Like many Rwandans today, she is suspicious of the old ethnic divisions. “Being Tutsi means nothing to me. I am Rwandan,” she says. “Yes, I try to instill a spirit of patriotism into my children, but I want them to feel that they not only belong to Rwanda, but to Africa and the world.”

Caught on film: Life at the SOS Children's Village in Kigali

This video shows family life at our SOS Children’s Village in Kigali. Even today, the conversation eventually turns to 1994, albeit in passing. You can hear SOS mother Marie Theogene talk about the trauma children experienced at 1 min 22 secs into the video.

Today, we care for vulnerable children at four SOS Children’s Villages in Rwanda. Find out more about our work.