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Rwanda's youth have grown in genocide's shadow. Here are their hopes for the future

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

How does a generation that has grown up in the shadow of violence, genocide, think about its future? More than half the country of Rwanda is too young to have lived through the genocide when nearly 1 million people were killed. Most people that live here are under 30 years old. And so how does learning about genocide secondhand shape your understanding of living peacefully? To find out, we spoke to three young people while we were traveling in Rwanda.

ORNELLA INEZA: Hi. My name is Ornella. I'm 20 years old, and I'm still a student.

KELVIN RWIHIMBA: My name is Kelvin. I'm a 20-year-old student at the University of Rwanda.

CRISPIN IRADUKUNDA: My name is Crispin Iradukunda. I'm 23 years old. Currently, I'm pursuing a degree in software engineering.

SUMMERS: We all sat around a pair of plastic tables at an outdoor bar in Kigali. And to start, we talked about how each of them first learned about the genocide. Kelvin Rwihimba started off.

RWIHIMBA: It doesn't really take you much edge to realize it. Because as long as you start being able to identify what's happening, you just ask your parents, like, why always this date - 7 April - everything is shut down. And we just remembering, and we just see people on TV crying. And from that, that's when parents start to tell you, like, there were bad days in our country where your people were killed. So this is the time to remember them. But when you grow up, you start to get much detail. And then they start to open up and tell you, like, deep, personal experience, actually.

IRADUKUNDA: OK, so how I got to learn about the genocide was in my early ages as well. Because every station, every radio, every TV is supposed to be playing the news about the genocide, so you understand that the environment really changes. And as - on a young age, you ask yourself why so much hatred in people. Before, it was really showing the images of people killing each other. And on a young age, you can understand how frustrating it is, so you can understand how we got exposed to it in a young age, which is also how we got to know the information as well.

INEZA: Actually, when you're a bit younger, they tell you the story, but not that deep. But when you're old enough to accept the information and know more to differentiate what happened and what we have to prevent and things like that, they go in deeper. And you can also get to know some people's history.

SUMMERS: Do any of you remember any specific conversations with a family member or some - an older person that you felt like were specifically meaningful for you as you've been learning about your country's history and growing into adulthood?

RWIHIMBA: I remember there is, like, a conference of this village, actually. We were sitting, and one old man stood up and just told us - directly to the youth - I was living in this environment. I actually got beat up by my friends. So I left the country, not because I didn't love the country, but because I was fearing for my life, actually. I was fleeing for my life to be saved. And I managed to make it out alive. This gives a task. You have to sustain this country for your kids also - to grow in a better condition and just be successful as you were.

INEZA: Yeah, same with my mom. Like, she told me what she left behind and how it was hard to start all over again and what they went through. Like, they were separated with their families. And to get to see them again was a little bit hard. You don't know if they are alive. Yeah.

SUMMERS: I'm curious how the three of you think about the future of your country as you look ahead. What do you want it to look like? What do you want it to look like for your children, if you have children?

RWIHIMBA: I just reflect back to what my parents told me that they lived in - being dehumanized, being thrown away from their country, living in refugee camps. They lived in a hostile environment. They made it. So I have to do, also, like, more things than they did, actually. When I think about the future that I want my kids to live in, I just think of, first of all, what am I doing to impact that future? Because the future is just us, the youth, actually. We are the one contributing to it. So this makes me think of Rwanda not being called a developing country - rather a developed country, actually.

SUMMERS: Kelvin, where were your parents in refugee camps?

RWIHIMBA: One were refugee in Burundi, and the other one was in Congo, actually.

SUMMERS: Did they talk to you a lot about what that experience was like for them?

RWIHIMBA: Actually, yeah, they did. There were some rights that they weren't given. Even people just come and abuse you for nothing - just for being around them, actually. But I don't face it, actually, and that's why I have to do better for my kids not to face such things in the future, actually.

SUMMERS: One thing that we've heard is that people from younger generations here in Rwanda don't care as much about ethnic divisions in this country as people older than them. Is that you all's experience?

IRADUKUNDA: Let me give you a kind of a picture. If I went to your country and I tried to mention any ethnic group, you wouldn't know of what I'm talking about. But if I came, and I told you I'm a Rwandan, you will be assured that that person comes from this certain country. So there is no need for you to waste time in the ethnic groups. You would rather take your focus on how to contribute to you being a Rwandan. How are you going to use the opportunities you have? How are you going to see that people are united, so you understand where this comes from?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That was Crispin Iradukunda, Kelvin Rwihimba and Ornella Ineza. They were in conversation with our co-host, Juana Summers. Tomorrow our reporting from Rwanda continues with a look at basketball's growing popularity there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elena Burnett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Tinbete Ermyas
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.