I was truly honored to be asked to be part of this exhibition at the University of San Diego to mark the 20th anniversary of the Genocide, a milestone on the path of reconciliation in Rwanda. Images from 7 photographers including myself, Fazal Sheikh, Robert Lyons and others, span two decades showing both what unfolded during that dark April in 1994 as well as the road that Rwanda has since taken to move forward, to develop their country, and to try to live in peace with their fellow Rwandans, many of whom played some role in the mass killings.
The gallery opening is Thursday April 24th at 5, followed by a panel discussion: Preventing Mass Atrocities:Lessons Learned from Rwanda
Joining me on the trip will be my dear friend Dida, who is a genocide survivor, though that is a small part of who she is and if you know her you know what I mean because she radiates a light, an energy and is a bright spot of love and compassion in this world. Though I know what she has been through and often wonder how any person can be asked to bear as much grief as Rwandans have been handed, she has never once seemed like a victim to me, but instead is on a mission to do her part to help propel Rwanda forward to a brighter future. She has been generous enough to join the panel to speak about her own experiences as well as what she and other young people want for Rwanda now and what they are working so hard to achieve, a peaceful future for the country they dearly love.
It was quite humbling to be asked to speak on the panel as well, since compared to Dida and others such as Philip Lancaster, an aide to General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda during the genocide, I do not consider myself an expert on Rwanda. But what I can speak to, in addition to representing the photographers’ work in the show, is my experience living and working in Rwanda and what I took away from that in terms of where things are now as they continue to try and move forward from their painful past. Particularly because the focus of my teaching and of my personal photography work there was on young people, and the ways in which they are learning to use the arts to communicate with each other and express themselves.
I no longer look at the Rwandan genocide as a far off, distant human crisis, like we often do with the many humanitarian crisis around the world, understanding only so much as the media tells us about them, and usually having very little context for the country or for the people who are going through such massive traumas. To me now the genocide is personal because I know people, I love people, who lived through it, who lost those closest to them and who saw their country fractured into a million pieces. And I love Rwanda and feel a deep desire for it to be able to continue on it’s path of healing, something that I feel like this younger generation is very much capable of helping to bring about. My friends deserve that, all Rwandans deserve that.