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“I'm dead alive"

Olivia Kimmel
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Olivia Kimmel is finishing her junior year of nursing school at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. After a trip to Zambia before starting college, she decided to spend the fall semester of her sophomore year studying abroad in Rwanda with GoED Africa. Her passion is for serving those who don't have access to adequate medical care and she hopes to one day return to Africa as a nurse, spreading His light and love to the people who call that vast, beautiful place home. 

A local college student learns about the Rwandan genocide 

Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba lived through the Rwandan genocide, she a victim and he, her perpetrator. Today they speak about forgiveness and, when they share a meal, Emmanuel cuts Alice's food for her before he eats his own. She is missing her right hand because of his actions 21 years ago.


This month marks the 21st anniversary of one of the biggest atrocities that mankind has committed against itself. Yet chances are you may have never heard of it. It’s not the Jewish Holocaust or Pearl Harbor. It’s the Rwandan genocide – a dark time in a little country the size of Maryland, located in eastern Africa. 


Although the month of April brings the much-awaited rainy season, it’s also the hardest month of the year as the country recalls the intolerance of two tribes and all the lives lost during those 100 days of genocide.


“I’m dead alive.” This is a quote from a woman who survived the genocide, but lost her husband, kids and just about everyone who was dear to her. She cleans at one of the genocide memorials, a church actually that was a “safe haven” for Tutsis until the Interahamwe (the Hutu militia groups) killed them all. She is there on a daily basis because it is the one place where she feels close to the ones she loved. Even though it’s been 21 years since the genocide occurred in Rwanda, the pain of that awful event is still so real for this woman as well as every other person who was a part of it. 


 “It is during those days that we [Rwandans] experienced the worst pages of our history and it is during this month we mourn and remember that,” said Geofrey Mugisha, a Rwandan university student.


Many memorials are scattered throughout the country of Rwanda. A national memorial museum draws many visitors to learn the facts about the tragedy, but it’s the mass graves and churches where people tried to hide in the last moments of their lives that evoke so much emotion. There are no words to describe one’s feelings upon walking into a church or mass grave that has gone untouched since the days of the genocide. They are filled with clothing and people’s personal belongings, such as jewelry, books and jerry cans that they brought with them to these “safe places.” To see a huge crater in the cement floor outside the doors of one of the churches left by a grenade, to view bullet holes in the walls, blood stains on the altar fabrics, walls and ceilings is just . . . unfathomable. No words. 


The mass graves evoke in visitors a whole new mixture of emotions – sorrow, disbelief, anger – at the sight of so many bones of so many victims. Skulls with the most unimaginable holes in them left by machetes and clubs. I shudder to think what each person’s final moments of life must have been like. 


Perhaps the most jarring part of it all is that this happened when my mom was pregnant with me. It wasn’t centuries ago. A majority of people I passed on the streets and sat beside at church lived through it. One of my fellow students said it seems too fresh to even be considered “history.”

 Each time we left a genocide memorial, the van was filled with silence as we made our way back to our school. It was hard, hard to process and try to understand the why and how.

 I tried to read a book from the school’s library called “A time for Machettes.” It is the only book of its kind where nine killers are profiled and asked hard questions, such as “What was your first kill like?” They are also asked how they justified their actions and what they feel now, 21 years later. Some of them have been released from prison; however some will remain there for life. I was forced to put the book down after 20 pages because I became too angry with these men, especially when they admitted they still don’t think they did anything wrong.


Despite this terrible tragedy that blanketed Rwanda in 1994, the country has made great strides in moving forward, together. Walking the streets of Kigali, one would never know that just 21 years ago, the sidewalks and roads were impassable because they were littered with bodies.

A man who works for the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission shared about all the progress the country has made. For example, the last Saturday of every month is designated as Umuganda, a national holiday where the entire country shuts down (all stores and banks closed, no public transportation etc.) for the morning hours into early afternoon so that Rwandans can participate in some form of community service. Can you imagine if America or even Dillsburg tried to shut down entirely for even just one hour? Umuganda is an intentional time of working together for the good of the country, simultaneously providing a time for reconciliation and healing among the Rwandan people.


Their initial goal was to rebuild confidence and trust among the Rwandans – not among the Hutus and Tutsis, but among the Rwandans. No longer does anyone identify themselves as a member of either tribe; they are simply Rwandans.


On the final day of our Peacebuilding and Reconciliation class, we had the privilege of hearing two guest speakers: Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba. 


Alice is a survivor of the genocide. Emmanuel was a perpetrator, but not just any perpetrator. He was Alice’s perpetrator. 


Alice is missing her right hand because of Emmanuel – and his machete. 


Today, Alice is raising five children, not six, because Emmanuel’s partner killed her baby girl whom she was carrying on her back. Emmanuel has a scar on his right arm from a bullet that came from his boss when he tried to refuse to participate in the killings.


Alice and Emmanuel come each semester to share their story with students and what an absolutely incredible story it is; one of immense forgiveness, forgiveness that took many years and a whole lot of trust. Today, their children are friends and their two families spend time together on a regular basis. 


Perhaps the sweetest moment of our time together was at lunch when Emmanuel cut Alice’s chapatti (tortilla) for her. Before even touching his own plate of food, he made sure Alice had everything she needed to enjoy her meal.


Alice and Emmanuel are living proof of the truth written in 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” 

Both of these wonderful people asked each of us to go home and tell everyone about the peace and reconciliation that has happened in Rwanda and to remind them, to remind each of you reading this, that you too can be forgiven and can forgive. 


It is never too late, Emmanuel said; “Forgive me, remember me, pray for me because even though those killed aren’t your family, they’re your fellow brothers and sisters.”



Published in the Dillsburg Banner, April 9, 2015 (Dillsburg, PA)

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