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The Rwandan Genocide: Fifteen Years Later

Fast Company visits Nyamata, where the social enterprise Rwanda Works is helping locals preserve the old parish church-turned-killing ground as a memorial.

The Rwandan Genocide: Fifteen Years Later
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A purple banner hangs over the doorway to the old parish church in Nyamata. “If you had known yourself and had known me,” it reads in the local tongue, Kinyarwanda, “you wouldn’t have killed me.” Ten thousand people died in that church, where they had sought sanctuary from the death that was enveloping Rwanda in the spring of 1994. Today, 15 years later, the church is a memorial—a reminder of a time and place to which this small African nation hopes never to return.

“I would like tourists to come here so that they can go home and talk about what happened here,” says Andre Kamana, a survivor of 1994 who now manages the site. But the problem is a lack of tourist infrastructure: no guidebooks, few guides, no printed materials to explain to visitors what they are seeing. What are these piles of clothes? (Left behind by the dead, they’re stacked on the pews to commemorate those who were killed.) Who is in the white coffin? (A pregnant woman who suffered a particularly grisly death.) How does this place pay for itself? (It doesn’t really; as I talk with Kamana, a British/Canadian group leaves, and only one of the 12 people puts money—less than $2—in the donation basket.)

The group Rwanda Works, founded by Columbia University professor Josh Ruxin, is helping to build that infrastructure out—starting with a sign to inform foreigners that they’re expected to give something. It is also helping Kamana create educational materials and to get assistance with preserving the artifacts, including those clothes, from experts in Europe. Eventually, there could even be a small bookshop as well as exhibition space in a now-derelict structure next to the former church. “Nobody else has come to do this kind of thing,” Kamana says softly. “We are very grateful that someone is paying attention.”

Related: Slideshow: The Rwandan Genocide 15 Years Later
Related: Rwanda Rising | Issue 134
Related: Bono, Beware: Dambisa Moyo on Aid, Microfinance, and the Problem of Celebs in Africa
Related: Rwanda’s President: “We will not forget the genocide, but we will not be defined by it either”

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About the author

Jeff Chu writes on international affairs, social issues, and design for Fast Company. His first book, Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America, was published by HarperCollins in April 2013.

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