We are preparing to begin the annual commemoration of the Genocide of Rwanda, which many remember as the 100 days starting on April 7, 1994, when approximately 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed by fellow Rwandans. Over twenty years have passed and yet for many it is still fresh in their minds.
Tomorrow, thousands of people will light a candle to serve as a remembrance for those who lost their lives during the genocide, and for those who are still suffering from related mental and physical illnesses. Memories could be made more vivid for survivors during this time. Celebrations are put on hold and the already-quiet nation becomes even more hushed and solemn. Intimate commemoration ceremonies may be held in home, villages and churches, and work is put on hold most afternoons.
The need for additional support for trauma healing becomes much more apparent during the month of April in Rwanda, and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will show up to assist. According to the Rwandan Minister of Health, reported rates of trauma responses increase to close to 90% during this time. For those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is always present though may seem nonexistent unless the individual with the illness is triggered and goes into fight or flight mode. They most likely are not functioning fully on a daily basis and if they have gone into freeze mode, it is often difficult to detect.
It is impossible to escape memories of what happened in 1994 and prior. Even those Rwandans who were not in the country during the genocide, or who were not yet born, are deeply impacted by the trauma that most people around the world cannot even begin to fathom. We cannot ever know what this experience was like nor would we ever guess what the healing process is like.
As the Founder and Executive Director of Africa Healing Exchange, a new nonprofit organization and partnership of Rwandans and Americans working together to create lasting inner peace and to end the cycle of trauma, I honor all of you who have been affected in any way by this massive tragedy. It is unexplainable and no one should have to experience what you have, and are, going through emotionally and physically. I invite you to find forgiveness and love for yourself first and foremost, and I thank you for showing others how courageous and resilient the human spirit is capable of being. We light a candle as a symbol of hope and to remember those who have passed on. I see the light coming from the nation of Rwanda and spreading peace and unity throughout the world.