I knew the words well, I wrote the speech. I had spent two years with the Walk for Darfur, speaking from an activist standpoint on the Genocide in Darfur to thousands of students across Alberta. I had never given the words a second thought, until now. They echoed through my mind, almost with a twinge of innocence, as I wandered through a Rwandan countryside Genocide Memorial. For two days the numbers of Genocide crushed me, utterly and completely. The numbers numbed me to the soul.
From room to room, the tour went from terrible to horrifying as our guide started in a room full of adult corpses. These remnants of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide were preserved in grisly fashion layed out on wooden racks, bones unnaturally gleaming white. The smell of mass decay and hell wouldn't leave my nostrils for days. The final room of children and infants was too much to bare. Nausea and waves of dry heaving were swallowed back down as I forced myself to enter. Even in death, their innocence was their trademark. Kids and infants killed for no other reason than being born. It was then I noticed my chest heaving, my breathing became audible like that of an angry animals, my muscles flexed, as if ready to fight, my eyes focused forward with intensity. My soul was shaking with the failure of humanity.
We left the class, and the guide pointed to the other classrooms that lay in long houses that were scattered throughout the hillside. Like a nightmare where you run as fast as you can, but can't escape the evil, the guide said we could visit the other houses... but they were all the same. Homes of bodies. There were more than I dared to count. As if reading my mind, the guide explained there were “over 50,000 are buried in these hills.” The tour ended with the guide saying,
“This. Is. Genocide. This. Is. Genocide. This. Is. Genocide.”
“This. Is. Genocide. This. Is. Genocide. This. Is. Genocide.”
Each time he said it, he sounded a little more lost, as if replaying the madness of it in his mind.
I was too sad to cry, too shocked to feel hurt. Watching humanity at its absolute-lowest point was despicable. Inspiration, Faith and Hope, the ingredients I had grown up with had been replaced with Death, Decay and Darkness.
Two days later, we went to the Kigali Memorial Centre. In progressive stages, the exhibition walks you through the causes and precursors of genocide, the days of the massacre and the aftermath. Whole families, whole congregations, whole communities disappeared forever. Rwanda was dead. The most disturbing part came on the final part of the tour, entitled “The Missing Future.” Here, life sized photos of children in the massacre included plaques that described the kids. Keri, a 7 year old boy, had his last words written as, “Mom, where is it safe to run to?” Underneath, in quiet font, it said he was killed by machete. Amielle, who liked soccer and laughing, was shot to death after saying the words, “Don’t worry, UNAMIR will help us.” It went on and on like this...
The exhibit ended in a hallway filled with pictures, put up by family or friends of the victims. It was here I lost it, staring into the smiling eyes of hundreds of innocent children. The room had benches where people had gathered to rest. My legs buckled on the closest one, and I buried my head in my hands. I dug the heels of my hands into my eye-sockets, unsure if I was trying to brand the terrible images to memory forever, or force them out altogether. I cried uncontrollably on the bench, hands shaking and tears flowing like sharp daggers from my eyes. I have no idea how long I sat there and when my own crying had subsided, I realized that others were crying too. Everyone else in the narrow hallway, spread on black benches, were filling the audible silence of the kids absence with our sadness. We were crying together but each person was lost in their own personal hell. When the tears subsided, I stood and watched a proud lady, dressed in all-black, clutching at a crinkled photograph of a smiling young boy. We shared a look before I left.
Everything you ever sense, in touch, feeling or thought has an effect on you that is greater than zero. Some things, like a dog trotting by you on the street, or the steady hum of traffic out the window, have such an infinitely small effect that you can’t detect them. Other things, like heartbreak and happiness, effect your life in such a way that it changes it forever. The look we shared will stay with me forever.
As we held eyes, I saw in them the horror and pain and despair I felt I had in mine. But as I held her gaze for a moment longer, I saw something I never expected to see... hope. An, absolute, quiet, determined hope existed. And it has to, for us to move forward. For Rwanda to move forward. The people of Rwanda have shown an incredible resilience, drawing on strength and hope from the very core of what it is to be human. The country bears an incredible burden and responsibility to it's citizens, preaching reconciliation and forgiveness. Every small victory is a reason for celebration, every step forward a triumph. There is a lot of healing to do still, yes, but much has been done since 1994. Rwanda is peaceful, Rwanda is changing, Rwanda is alive again.
Like we said in the speech those years ago, if all we were to do was focus on the numbers, the chaos and disregard for human life, no one would ever act. We would simply be numbed into submission, too overwhelmed and defeated to do anything about it. In the longhouse, surrounded by the horrors of the Genocide, I was flooded with a wave of quiet, forceful resolution.
It was in that moment that I was changed. I no longer felt comfortable, safe, inspired, hopeful... free. In these seconds of weightlessness and uncertainty we define ourselves, and distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. We choose in those trying moments what it is we will fight for, what it is that we will live for... what it is that we are here for.
In the weeks that have passed since Memorial, I have found my way past the sadness that exists, and instead have focused on finding the light that exists within, the resilience and strength found inside. By finding our own hope, we can bring our energy, our passion and our experiences to help a situation or to empower a community, assist a family or even a person. It may not make a difference to the world, but it could make the world of difference to one person. And that difference alone could mean the distinction of having hope and losing it completely. That difference could mean life and death.
By using these hands, this mind and this heart, I want to use my skills as a nurse to bring light and hope to the darkest situations in the world; from refugee camps to natural disaster zones. I joined nursing with this very intention, but only now am I starting to understand the scope of the situation. Only now can I admit it with grim resolution. I'm signing up for hell, I'm sure, but will relentlessly be looking for hope. As long as it exists, even if just from inside of us, inside of one person, it is reason to believe in humanity.
That humanity is something worth helping, worth fighting for and worth dedicating yourself to. That humanity can be better than it is.I believe that this world we live in can be full of darkness, but if you only look for that, you miss out on the light. I believe this is why I am here; to help kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.
"When the end of poverty arrives, as it can and should in our own generation, it will be citizens in a million communities in rich and poor countries alike, rather than a handful of political leaders, who will have turned the tide. The fight for the end of poverty is a fight that all of us must join in our own way. We have exciting times ahead, and no time to lose." -Jeffrey Sachs