My Life-Changing Trip To Rwanda 25 Years After The Genocide
First Published by 10 Daily on 9 April, 2019
By Tom Phillips, Collingwood football player
On Sunday Rwanda began 100 days of mourning.
It’s been 25 years since the Hutu forces started their murderous campaign that ran from April 7 to July 4, 1994. Over the 100-day period, an estimated 800,000 to one million people were slaughtered.
In late November last year, I travelled to Rwanda for five days. It changed my life.
I flew into the capital, Kigali, and drove to the surrounding communities to see the work of an international NGO that I had been advocating for back home in Australia.
Rwanda has a bloody past. I knew some of the history, I had read some books and learnt about it at school but there’s no substitute for visiting a place to discover what’s really going on.
On my first day, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I saw the faces of the people who had been slaughtered. There are 250,000 people buried there. Men, women and children. It was confronting and heartbreaking.
The genocide occurred during the Rwandan Civil War and involved the mass slaughter of Tutsi by the Hutu majority government. Over a 100-day period in 1994, an estimated 800,000 to one million Rwandans were murdered.
As I was leaving, I was told that the final painting in the museum used to be of the British genocide in Tasmania, but it had been moved to another gallery. It had depicted a time of mass killings, death and dispossession of Aboriginal people. I knew something of the Tasmanian history, but I hadn’t heard it framed that way before.
I travelled halfway across the world to learn about the history of another country and instead discovered something confronting about my own.
Just like Australia, Rwanda still bears its past scars. But scars are what you get when a wound starts to heal. And I saw a lot of healing too.
While I was there, I visited schools and met some kids. Young girls told me some of their friends who didn’t attend because their families were too poor. I met vulnerable children who wanted an education but without ongoing support they simply couldn’t access it.
Despite the improvements, Rwanda faces many issues. The country hosts 75,000 refugees, many of whom escaped conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) next door. Some refugees have been there since 1996. For them the wounds were still fresh.
In one camp, I kicked the Aussie Rules footy with local children. It started as a small group then 100 more joined in. Footies flew everywhere.
Then it was the kids’ turn to teach me how to kick a soccer ball. The tables had turned -- I learnt a few new tricks and had a lesson in humility for free.
These children have the infectious enthusiasm and energy that will be needed to propel the country and the economy forward.
There are millions of vulnerable children in the world that are suffering from such issues as sexual abuse, family violence and lacking access to clean water, food and education.
On the 25 year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, I urge everyone with a passion for vulnerable children to check out some of the inspiring projects underway in places like Rwanda and consider sponsoring a vulnerable child.
Tom Phillips travelled to Rwanda with World Vision Australia.
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