In a small town in the Eastern Province of Rwanda there is a small church. Behind that church there is an even smaller building, a Sunday school house for the small children of Ntarama. Instead of continuing to attend Sunday school in this little house, the children of Ntarama never got to be big. To visit big churches and big cities and big countries that make Rwanda look like an ant on a sidewalk. They never got to because they were killed there in that small church with their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers, and friends. By their neighbors. By their friends. In the worst ways possibles.
I have been in that Sunday school house. I have heard the stories of Ntarama and seen the very stains on the walls. Truly, my heart will never be the same. To think that all those children should be me age, able to stand beside me. They could have been leaders, mothers and fathers, teachers, doctors. It is so unfair that they had their futures taken away from them because of how they were born. Tutsi. Rwandans shared the same culture, language, religion, heritage, customs, and faces. The little marks on their identity cards were their only links to ethnicity, something fabricated by invading colonialists.
In the Sunday school house there was a banner from the 19th Genocide Commemoration. On the banner were messages from schoolchildren of all ages, messages to the children whose lives were lost. Some were in Kinyarwanda, some in French, others in English. One remark was burned in my mind. “We are standing in the gap”. Rwanda lost a generation. Multiple generations. Their deaths left a gap in the history of the world. In the small school house, in the small village of Ntarama in the small country of Rwanda, we were standing in a huge, enormous, gigantic gap that should never have been created. Should never again be allowed to be created. The very words that the superpowers said after the Holocaust. Apparently those words did not apply to everyone.
Visiting these memorials was an incredibly difficult experience. I don’t wish to ever experience that kind of emotional challenge again, but I’m glad I did once. Once was enough to change me forever. I’ve been guilty of being overly critical, catty, and judgmental. With these experiences I think that it has caused me to step back and take a look at the way I treat people. Though they are emotionally challenging, I wish that everyone could see these memorials, the Kigali Memorial at Gisozi and the churches of Ntarama and Nyamata. It changes your perspective.
This is why I’m here. To do something about the wrong in the world when others won’t. I don’t want to be someone that glances at the TV while eating my dinner, see that something awful is happening to people and say “oh how awful” and return to my meal. I understand that not everyone can quit their jobs and join the Peace Corps. Just do something nice for someone wherever you are and even something that small can make a difference. If everyone can do small things it will make a big difference.
Through this change, we will never again have to stand in the gap.