Rwanda orphans school teaches unity


By Jason Straziuso, AP

RWAMAGNA, Rwanda–Most of the kids in a school set amid the lush green, rolling hills of eastern Rwanda don’t identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi.

That’s a positive sign for Rwanda, which is now observing the 20th anniversary of its genocide, a three-month killing spree that, according to the official Rwandan count, left more than 1 million people dead, most of them Tutsis killed by Hutus.

The teenagers attending the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a school with dorms that creates tight-knit student families, say the ethnic slaughter that their parents or grandparents were a part of either as victims or perpetrators won’t be repeated. The school director echoes the sentiment.

“This is the generation now that will in the future make sure that this kind of politics doesn’t exist in the country. We promote unity and hope,” said Jean Claude Nkulikiyimfura.

“One of the major debates is that better education would help the kids not to think, ‘Yes, I’m a Hutu. I’m a Tutsi.’ Good education would promote the idea of how do you develop yourself, how do you develop your community, instead of this division that was created mostly by their parents,” he added.

The school tries to bring in Rwanda’s most vulnerable kids, especially those affected by the genocide. Most students are orphans, he said. Others have parents in jail because of their role in the violence.

“What we try to do is heal their hearts,” he said. “These kids come wounded. They come with heavy scars in their souls.”

Though the school’s first classes were populated by students orphaned in the genocide, today’s 500 students are orphans because of other factors, such as HIV/AIDS and because of violence that took place in neighboring Congo or incursions from Congo after the genocide ended.

Unity is the theme. The school hopes to teach the students that their position in life will be achieved through merit. Gender won’t matter, and more importantly, Nkulikiyimfura said, ethnic identity won’t matter.

Sharon Kalisa’s favorite subject is history, especially genocide studies. The 17-year-old said she wants to know how and why the genocide happened. Both of her mother’s parents were killed in the 100 days of violence. Kalisa says she sees similarities between the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, most notably the undercurrents of poverty and unequal rights.