Today marks the 21st anniversary of the official start of the Rwandan Genocide.
On April 6, 1994 a plane carrying the president of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, beginning one of the biggest atrocities in modern history. Over 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed in just 100 days. Each day, 10,000 were murdered. To put that into perspective, take the number of victims killed in the tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 (2,977). Multiply that by 3. And repeat it for 100 days. More than three times the number of victims of 9/11 (10,000) died in Rwanda every single day for 100 days straight during the 1994 Genocide. This was all in a country roughly the size of Massachusetts, until over 1/10 of the population had perished, and millions of others were displaced.
Today, 21 years later, Rwanda is a country of progress and hope. It is a beautiful country adequately called the “land of a thousand hills.” In the past two decades, Rwanda has seen incredible prosperity and renewal, with a booming economy that has increased the standard of living unprecedented rates. GDP growth rate in Rwanda averaged 6.28% annually between 2000-2014, and per capita income tripled in that time (from $206USD in 2000 to $638USD in 2014). Rwanda has some of the lowest rates of corruption in the region, and has significantly reduced the percentage of the population living in poverty. The government has the goal of Rwandan becoming a middle-income country by 2020, which it has made significant progress towards.
At Agahozo-Shalom, I have the pleasure of working with children who truly are the future of Rwanda. Students who believe in the power of dreaming big, who feel it is their responsibility to improve their communities, and who are the truest definition of resilient.
I see the future of Rwanda in students like Ornella, who believe in the power of women and defying social norms in order to work hard and make a change in the future. In Cadette, who is passionate about remedying the negative effects of poor nutrition in her community and is dedicated improving the health in her country. And in Angelique, who raised her younger siblings after their mother died and father left with their abusive step-mother, and who only four months ago knew no English and is now first in her English class. Students who are committed to making Rwanda a better place by developing and sharing their talents, whether it is music, debate, architecture, poetry, economics, or business. I am proud to know and work with 500 inspirational young men and women who give me full confidence in the future of this country and of the world.
As we enter the period of Genocide Memorial, I am thinking especially of the loved ones of so many that I have come to call friends and family here in Rwanda. Let us always remember atrocities like the Rwandan Genocide in order to learn from the past, and to work towards the end of hatred and violence. No matter the person, no matter the community. Never again.