In 1994, armed militias within the Hutu power  government of Rwanda committed genocide against the minority Tutsi during the Rwandan Civil War. An estimated one million people were killed in a span of about 100 days.

A man walks outside the Centre St. Paul hotel breakfast, while another man talks on the phone at the breakfast.

Dr. Sarah Schmidt, assistant director for Global Education Initiatives and professor at Kent State, has been studying Rwanda for seven years while completing her PHD. In collaboration with Pacifique Niyonzima, a genocide survivor and Kent State masters grad, they were able to build this program bringing students to Rwanda for the past seven years to teach other students about the history of Rwanda.

Schmidt introduced Niyonzima as her “dear friend” when we met him at the airport.

The group walks back to Centre St. Paul from the grocery store, Simba, on the first day after arriving.

Kent State students ride moto taxis through Kigali on their way to the Liberation Museum. Moto taxis are a common way to get around Kigali and only cost a few thousand Rwandan Franks, equivalent to a few US dollars.

This year, the Peace and Conflict Studies school at Kent will host a peace education conference in collaboration with the Center for Conflict Management at University of Rwanda on July 11 to July 13, 2023. 

We arrived in Kigali around 11 p.m. July 2. The first thing we saw were the city lights on the mountains, which were beautifully layered in between each hill. We drove up and down each steep road, until we reached our hotel at Centre St. Paul. 

Inside the rooms at Centre St. Paul are two beds and a bathroom, with mosquito nets hanging about the beds.

A woman named Oddette sweeps a garden at Centre St. Paul in preparation for a wedding.

Centre St. Paul is located in the heart of the city, next to the famous St. Famille church, which was protected from being overrun by militia during the genocide. A large, chaotic round-a-bout sits right outside of St. Famille, and up the hill is a calm neighborhood. Cars beep in the distance as people sit outside of their homes in the sun, workers sweep the street, and others walk to get morning coffee. 

The next few days, we explored the city and learned about the history of the genocide and process of rebuilding the country, which has been accomplished through reconciliation, transitional justice, homegrown solutions and peace education. We had discussion sessions with Schmidt and a professor at the University of Rwanda, along with a visit to an art business that helps disabled women make a living. 

Two Rwandan mechanics take apart an engine at Centre St. Paul to fix a car. They said the car belonged to their boss.

Women weave baskets outside of Talking Through Art, an art business that provides work for disabled women and mothers.

A child sits outside Talking Through Art, looking inside for a minute before walking down the road.

On Wednesday, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where our guide, Claude, explained the history of Rwanda and what it was like during the genocide. “I could rememeber in 1994, I was 8 years,” he said. “The teacher in the morning called us through ethnicity groups, ‘the number of Tutsis in the class, stand up.’” 

“My parents never told me I was Hutu or Tutsi, that was the first time I faced that.”

Lily Keister, Kent State grad student, becomes emotional at the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. The location of the memorial was a place of massacre during the genocide, where 250,000 lost their lives.

Claude, our guide at the genocide memorial, explains the context of the genocide starting with precolonization. Claude is a genocide survivor.

Many of us became emotional witnessing the violence the people endured, especially the children. The end of the museum focuses on the use of peace education and reconciliation, showing how it was possible for Rwanda to thrive again. 

Every Rwandan above the age of thirty is a genocide survivor. Almost everywhere we visit, including Centre St. Paul, is a sight where killing took place in in 1994. 

Outside the genocide memorial, large mass graves sit on the grounds with flowers on them, honoring the people who lost their lives in 1994.

Everyone we’ve met has been kind and warm, welcoming us into their country as outsiders. They have a trust for strangers that seems different from ours; for instance, a man came to where we were staying to sell us his art, and he let us put down any amount of money for a piece and take it before paying the full amount the next day. 

It is hard to not think about the violence that happened here as we walk the streets, but I feel a sense of admiration for how their country has recovered. 

People walk, shop and ride moto taxis through a neighborhood outside the main city area of Kigali.

A man stands in a neighborhood near Centre St. Paul, watching as cars drive by and the garbage men collect the trash.

A woman with a brightly colored sweater walks to the store in the neighborhood of Talking Through Art, blending into the house behind her.

Published in Kentwired
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