20th Anniversary Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, McGill University

I am sincerely humbled and honored to be here for the commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.

Like many of you here tonight, I have the privilege to choose to remember. Unlike many of our friends, who have no choice but to carry those memories, I was separated from the genocide by time and place.  So why are we here? Why do we choose to remember?

I imagine that everyone in this room has a different answer to that question. But for many of us, we choose to remember because the genocide has become real for us through individuals we have come to know and care about. Our friends. Our neighbors. Our colleagues. Our fellow students. Maybe you know Moses, or Ignace, or Jackie, or one of the other survivors here tonight. 

Through their stories, we know that the genocide is not something confined to a specific time and place, but something that is part of our university, part of our community, part of our humanity, and part of us too. So for those who carry those memories with them every day, we stand with you today in honor, compassion, and respect. And we choose to remember.

Why else do we choose to remember?

Many times, when we speak about genocide, we use the phrase “never again.” But tragically, that phrase is starting to ring a bit hollow. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that genocide and mass atrocities occurred before and after Rwanda, and we are aware of mass atrocities continuing today, even as we speak. But while it may be a bit naïve now to say “never again,” we can still say with full sincerity, “never forget.”

It is not always easy to remember. It would be so much easier to look away. But it is only when we have the courage to look back and, as Desmond Tutu once said, “look the beast in the eye,” that we can be reminded of the importance of continuing to work to prevent, reduce, and respond to genocide and mass atrocities, even if we cannot stop them completely. And so we choose to remember.

We will be lighting candles later as part of the event, and the candles remind me of the well-known quote, “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” I like that quote, and yet, when I think about Rwanda, I do curse the darkness. I curse the darkness of the genocide itself. I curse the darkness of the inaction and the silence of the international community. I curse the darkness of ignorance that comes with forgetting.

So yes, I do curse the darkness. Because we can’t go back and change what happened in Rwanda. But I light a candle too, because we do have a choice when it comes to challenging the darkness of forgetting. And that’s why I, and I think many of us, are here tonight. To shine a light one on of the darkest moments of recent history, so that we can then start to look forward.

And so tonight, we choose to remember. We remember those who lost their lives, we remember those who risked their lives to save others, and we honor the survivors who have the courage to go on living and to share their stories. 

For everyone here tonight, and especially for the survivors: Kwibuku. We remember.

Comments by Julie M. Norman, McGill University Political Science Professor


A Talk of Tomorrow, a speech by ASYV Alumni and current McGill student Ignace

We, young people, people of my generation, people who were really young to live in hopeless country, a country full of cruelty, uncertainty, suspicion, desperation, conflicts and a broken nation. 

A country with enormous and unhappy orphans, widows.

A country with no functioning unity, all offices were closed, no judiciary system existed, yet we have millions of genocide perpetrators who needed to be sentenced (if over million of people were killed in only 100 days, you can imagine how many people got involved in killings - millions)

I was [too] young to know anything or to remember scenarios of genocide, but being raised in a society that was affected by it, I could smell its stench. I lived its consequences.  Each and every family was affected in one way or the other - traumatized people all around in the streets - orphans becoming chiefs of household under 18 years old, with a responsibility to raise two or three other children who were under ten - no resources because everything was destroyed - no friends because everybody was unreliable - sorrow of the lost family. How could it be possible to rebuild ourselves again? How could it be possible to restructure the society? These are the questions I asked myself when growing.

My sister told me,right after the genocide when she went back to school, that in her class there was so much blood on the classroom walls - they hadn't cleaned it.  The next day, the walls were washed cleaned, but the teacher himself brought a machete to the class and killed 8 Tutsi young students right in front of the classroom filled with students. "Live!!,“ my sister told me.

We remember to respect, to honor, celebrate the death of innocent people, we remember to support the survivors, we remember to value the humanity, our identity. If we don’t remember. we lose focus,

We do this every April, to prevent any other genocide and massive killings.  We do this to better the world's future. If people’s choices are not informed by historical clarity, the danger is always present. Let’s learn from history.



We Are the Seeds of Hope, a speech by ASYV Alumni and current McGill student Jackie

Since six years ago, I lived in the Agahozo-Sholom Youth Village (ASYV), located in the Eastern province of Rwanda, a place where all tears are dried, a place where one learns “Tikkun Halev,”  self-healing and “Tikkun Olam,” healing the world. When I got to this place, I was received by many people who helped me to know what it means to have a dream, and become successful in life. The Village has a motto saying, "IF YOU SEE FAR, YOU WILL GO FAR." Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is not only a home for Rwandan youth like me, but also a place of hope, renewal and resilience.  At Agahozo-Shalom, there is a community - I have sisters and brothers who always remind me to, “never give up my friend, the sun is gonna shine again," and "we are gonna change the world.”

Before the establishment of Agahozo-Shalom, there was no hope for many of us who came to live in the Village. It was difficult to live a life without knowing who you are, where you are from, or wondering what your parents could look like. For that reason, there was no hope for the future, no awareness of what can make us happy, and no confidence of what we are capable of. We were driven by fear, sorrows and incompetence in everything. In other words, we were meandering like a lost leaf in the wind. BUT, that was then. Today, we see ourselves as the responses to the problems that our country is facing because we are the seeds of hope and renewal.  You may probably wonder what motivates us that much!

Our motivation is that we have grown enough to understand that our sufferings were brought by poor leadership, but we truly believe in a change for a bright future. We believe that each night has an end, and is always followed by sunshine that brings the light.  WE, the Rwandan youth, we are the new sunshine, we want to spread this light to the world.  Day after day, we learn how to overcome our fears by fighting against any kind of misleading actions that may bring us back where we are from. United as ONE, We have a common goal which is a bright future, and making the world a better place. 

When I was at Agahozo-Shalom, every day, they would tell us that, “WE ARE SEEDS OF HOPE”. This has been a leading motto for many of us, and a reason to work hard, because we see the sky as the only limit we have. As we commemorate [the genocide], we gain more confidence that there is a reason to why we are alive, and we take a responsibility to accomplish all unaccomplished tasks of our beloved brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends. We believe that they had dreams. Some wanted to become doctors, pilots, engineers, teachers, and CEOs. That’s why we work twice as hard in order to realize our dreams, and theirs as well. 

Most importantly, our goal is to make this world a better place. When Anne Heyman had the idea to build a Village for Rwandan Youth, her plan was not giving food, or shelter. Her plan was “Tikkun Olam” - to teach us that we are the hope for our country and that we can be the change that the world needs.  That’s our responsibility today, which is yours too. Together united we stand, let’s say NEVER AGAIN to Genocide against humanity. Let's mean it, and do it. We are the youth, future leaders of this world, it’s our responsibility to learn from past experiences, and avoid the same mistakes. Yes, they say, history repeats itself, but let us join together, united, and make Genocide against humanity an exception in future leadership.

Today I would like to take this opportunity to honor, Anne Heyman, the founder of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, who unfortunately passed away last few months ago [January 31, 2014]. Her goal was to see us succeeding in life, and her dream has been always been to heal the world.  For sure, we will make it.

Again, I can’t finish without taking this opportunity to thank all of you who came to be with us, and hear our experiences. When we came here In August [2013], we were afraid that there would be no one to encourage us and help us to keep seeing the sky as the only limit. But, we found other caring brothers, sisters and mentors here at McGill.  Both the ASYV and McGill communities will always be our places where we belong.