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  • Writer's pictureSue Dawkes

Land of a Thousand Hills

I love Rwanda. I first went there in 2014, after climbing Kilimanjaro for the charity Compassion, mainly to visit the child, Claudette, who I sponsor. It was such a delight to travel to the remote part of the country where she lived and meet her and her mother. Despite having so little they gave me gifts which was a humbling experience. I decided to take another few days exploring the country, including staying on the shores of Lake Kivu, just across the water from war torn Congo, to trekking Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. I could write another whole blog on that which was probably the most memorable thing I have ever done in my life. To be in the wild watching a large family group of Gorillas, just yards away, from the huge silver back being groomed by a female to the tiniest baby being cradled by its mother whilst crazy teenagers chased each other up and down, was incredible and heart-warming. These are totally misunderstood gentle giants.

During that trip I stayed in remote places where I never felt afraid or intimidated by the locals. In fact, quite the opposite, everyone was friendly and welcoming. I learnt to love the country and people on that trip. I returned with Compassion in June 2019 for a marathon (which I walked!) and to visit Claudette again, who had grown into a young woman of 18! That time I was going on to Uganda and Kenya to visit friends afterwards but left with a heavy heart promising not to leave it so long next time. Of course then the pandemic hit so I haven't been back.

Whilst on that trip I met a wonderful young man called Jean Bizimana (Bizi to his friends). He had been employed by Compassion to photograph our time out there and he would pop up all over the place on his motorbike to take photos of us. He was orphaned during the genocide at such a young age that he doesn't know how old he was. There were so many children orphaned during that time and not one person left alive was not affected by this awful atrocity. Bizi generously invited me to his wedding on 1st January this year, which I was really sad not to attend. His wife, Joy, is now pregnant so a new generation begins... and what triggered me to write this today is that Bizi sent me something, which I will post after this, where he says as he never knew his mother so has no concept of motherhood. He has decided to write a letter to his parents, updating them on the last 27 years of his life, in the hopes he can unburden himself of his orphan-hearted feelings.

And this all leads me to stand up for the country I love in view of the recent suggestion that the UK send refugees to Rwanda. Although, in principle, I do not think this is ideal, I could think of much worse places to be sent! What has bothered me since this announcement is the bad press that Rwanda has got. Kilgali is one of the best capital cities I have visited and is almost as clean as Singapore. On Saturday mornings locals take turns to clean it, I can't see Londoners doing that! They take great pride in their country and are determined that what happened in 1994 will never happen again. For people to go through what they have and come out the other side so positive and forward looking is incredible. Obviously you can't go through such trauma without there being inner pain but considering the genocide was mainly caused by white intervention then I am amazed how welcoming they are to outsiders. The church needs to take some responsibility for committing cultural genocide by taking away people's native identity and some priests enticed people into churches so the "enemy" could set fire to them. Yet amazingly the people rebuilt the churches and still go there to worship God. I visited one such church which was huge but overflowing. Outside they displayed hundreds of skulls in a glass case, lest they forget...

Of course there was no "enemy" until the white man arrived and decided to distinguish between the different tribes by weighing individuals and measuring their heads. The Belgians first favoured the Tutsis at first, believing them to be more intelligent than the Hutus, so they were given higher paid jobs in offices. Later they changed their minds and started giving the Hutus more privilege. They were given identity cards which then, through propaganda, when neighbour started killing neighbour, it made it easier to know who was from which tribe. If you have time, read about the history of Rwanda. This was not just a tribal war. I am absolutely no expert on Rwandan history but personally I am convinced it was created by white intervention and when it happened we sat back and watched. I cannot imagine any other country coming back from such atrocity and rebuilding a country the way they have. So please give Rwanda some credit and if you ever have a chance to visit I would thoroughly recommend it. Whether they have the infrastructure to support refugees I doubt it, most people outside the big towns live in great poverty. I stayed in some wonderful hotels whilst there but in the rural ones I was often the only guest. Tourism is what Rwanda needs and it is not called the land of a thousand hills for nothing, it is stunningly beautiful.

If you are reading this on the website go to The Fatherheart Journey Facebook page to read Bizi's blog.

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