Inside the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company office in Kimironko, a suburb of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, loud voices welcome you as you step in.
These young people all share something in common: they were born just after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, some of them in tragic circumstances.
They are rehearsing for a play dubbed Generation 25, which will be performed on April 12th as part of genocide commemoration activities marking 25 years since the Rwandan Genocide, which according to the UN saw more than 800,000 people killed and between 150,000 and 250,000 women raped.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 children were born out of rape after the Genocide, as it was used as a weapon of war.
Healing through Art
For the last 18 years Mashirika – a theatre company that uses arts for healing, memory, and social transformation – has been involved in genocide commemoration activities. This year they asked themselves what kind of conversation they should engage the community in.
‘It is estimated that more than 20,000 children were born out of rape after the Genocide, as it was used as a weapon of war.’
“We realized that a new generation was born right after the Genocide that has nothing to do with the past, but that is part of Rwanda’s common path of development,” says Hope Azeda, founder and director of the company.
Azeda believes that conversation is key to Rwanda’s healing and for the last 18 years the company has responded to gaps in society with art projects for civic dialogue.
“We said: how do we create a platform for young people and engage them in questions arising from the Genocide memory?” tells Azeda. “Then we realized that these young people are actually born in different circumstances. Their thinking is different, and when you talk about memory they don’t really understand the purpose.”
What it means to be Rwandan
For this reason, “Generation 25” aims to engage young people in remembrance and address the lack of communication that has allowed an entire generation to grow up detached from an event which is so often tied to the very core of their identity.
One of the youths involved in the project is Yannick Kamanzi. He was born shortly after the genocide, and only discovered how uninformed he was at a workshop, in a conversation about the lead-up to the Genocide and its effects on Rwandan society.
Neither his education nor conversations with elders had ever gone beyond the genocide to discuss Rwanda beforehand, or what it means to be a Rwandan among others. He has come to believe that many other young people have the same difficulty connecting to their own identity.
The government is calling on them to embrace their identity as Rwandese above all ethnic differences, but young people also ask themselves what kind of Rwandese they are.
Some were born out of rape, might also be survivors of their mother’s attempted murder or suicide while pregnant or might have fathers still on the run for crimes against humanity. Others grew up orphans, or were left to orphanages. Others still were born to families which were outside of the country at the time of the genocide, and have come back to Rwanda since. And just as there are children of genocide victims and survivors, there are also children of genocide perpetrators.
Each one hails from a different background and culture, but they have all embraced the government’s call for unity and are determined to move forward for a common goal: NEVER AGAIN.
Processing all this can be difficult. In order to communicate with his friends and start a conversation around issues of trauma and identity, Kamanzi found it easier to use the arts. He had already worked with Mashirika before, and when he met Azeda they talked about the role of carrying the burden of a story.
“How do you reconstruct yourself as a kid that was born after that trauma, and how do you face and create a shared future?”
He was interested in telling the story and showing the emotions of a generation born after the genocide, and wanted to ask what it means to be born in a country you love and have roots in – but whose roots are tainted with blood.
“How do you reconstruct yourself as a kid that was born after that trauma, and how do you face and create a shared future?” asks Kamanzi.
All these questions that are ringing in the minds of young people are at the center of Generation 25 project.
As Rwanda and the world at large commemorate a quarter of a century since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Azeda, Kamanzi and the others are working together to engage young people in moving the country in the right direction.
“We are a voice of peace, of humanity, and have decided to use art to create a unified community” concludes Hope Azeda.