Inter-denominational youth gathering concludes in Kigali, Rwanda.

The Lutheran Church in Rwanda hosted more than eighty five youth across the religious divide who gathered at Presbyterian centre in Kigali, Rwanda from 27th – 30th March, 2008, in what many believe was the huge youth gathering witnessed in present Rwanda since the 1994 genocide that left more than a million dead. The conference under the banner ‘Great Lakes Youth conference: we are the future of Africa! Brought together Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, youth from Assemblies of God church and YWCA.

Youth from Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, USA, Kenya and Namibia joined their Rwanda counter-parts to deliberate, reflect and bear witness to the killings committed during the 1994 genocide. The conference provided safe space for learning and healing for tens of thousands of youth affected by the genocide additionally, it provided youth with education on starting and managing small businesses.

ELCA staff at the Lutheran Office for World Community -Emily Freeburg was instrumental in formulating the vision, fund-raising and organizing the conference. Mr. Gaylord Thomas ELCA-Director for Africa Desk/East Africa joined the conference to give support and encourage the organizers.

The conference funded by ELCA presented life time opportunity for many youth in the Great Lakes countries to discuss, worship, interact and learn about conflict resolution, peace-building and reconciliation. In his opening remarks the head of Lutheran Church in Rwanda, Bishop George Kalisa sent a strong message to the youth noting that- ‘you (youth) are the art of the world…we want you to transform the world by becoming peaceful, have justice and forgive our enemies’ he said. He went on to add that the conference was an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas in order to ‘…understand and know the value of all mankind’. Bishop Kalisa encouraged the youth to uphold strong faith even in the midst of sorrow- ‘we see sorrowful images, but with God’s trust we are urged to love each other, help each other and work hard’.

Mr. KOBUKYEYE Frank the Director for Rwanda Peace building and Conflict management (NURC), shared a presentation at the conference on peace, conflict and management process in Rwanda; which touched on Rwanda genocide lessons- case scenario, hurdles in rebuilding societies, post-genocide reconstruction efforts and reconciliation approaches tested in Rwanda. While emphasizing the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation and giving chance to genocide perpetrators, Mr. Kobukyeye reminded the youth that-‘….every person given good education can become useful to the same community instead of punishment’. His presentation was a powerful reminder to the youth (who were young during the genocide) and educated them on Rwanda history. Frank listed some of the core elements in reconciliation process as honesty, sincerer regret, readiness to forgive, and effort to address past injustices. The director went further and noted that- ‘…genocide isn’t only about approving death penalty, (is about)..respect to law and human rights’. Frank sighted reconciliation as a by product of poverty eradication noting that ‘poverty is a hindrance to successive reconciliation…. (Meaningful reconciliation) must touch on economic issues’- said Kobukyeye. In response to question on the role of youth in peace and reconciliation, Mr. Kobukyeye said –‘youth are not intoxicated as the elderly….(youth) are willing to work, co-operate and actively participate in peace-building’.

We killed people….

People involved in genocide got an opportunity at the conference not only to testify about their actions and killings but also to seek for forgiveness for their actions. Giving testimony and sharing is one among other strategies employed by the National Reconciliation and Unity Commission to inform, educate and promote national healing and unity among the Rwandans after 14 years of the genocide. Mr. Rukera Emmy president of Tuvindimwe Uyagi (reconciliation committee) said- ‘no one in Rwanda who witnessed genocide, like her children to pass through the same’. The testimony session aroused buried grief and anger among the genocide survivors (present) which led to program interruption (youth directly affected by the genocide could not hold back tears as the testimonies refreshed long-forgotten memories of their beloved ones). James (name withheld) remorsefully explained during his testimony –‘we killed people even when we had nothing to kill for…..’.

Beatrice from YWCA offices in Rwanda took the participants through the basic skills and requirements for setting up small businesses to improve on their economic power. She also empowered youth at the gathering with tips on efficient project management. Young adults from YWCA gave testimonies on how they started and succeeded in business with small capital. ‘….genocide brought poverty to Rwanda….the income generating knowledge is useful for the youth’- said Juliet at the end of project development session.

Margaret Hansen 29 years old youth from Namibia said –‘the gathering opened (her) eyes to human suffering…..in the absence of peace’.

Dreams closer than ever before.

Genocide survivors in Rwanda have known no other life in the past fourteen years than pain, anger and hatred inflicted by the 1994 memories of the genocide. The conference transformed many hearts, changed souls, gave hope for the future and opened doors for dreams… dreams for success and dreams for peace. And at the conclusion, youth were transformed and appreciated life and all its gifts. Dreams were closer to realization than ever before in their lives ‘…..with dreams and chance, we see everything is possible’ – said Selline Wela (YWCA youth in Rwanda).

(Rwanda Youth gathering was made possible through grants from ELCA and was the first youth gathering hosted by Lutheran Church in Rwanda since the genocide. For more information please visit: http://www.rwandayouthgathering.wordpress.com )

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