Genocide Memorial Park, Rugerero Survivors Village, Gisenyi, Rwanda
(2004 – Present)

Working with genocide survivors in the Rugerero District near Gisenyi, Barefoot Artists has completed a beautiful Genocide Memorial Park which has become the official memorial site for the area.

We have launched a number of programs to transform the physical and human environment of the Rugerero Survivors’ Village through art, health, community, and economic development initiatives. Please visit The Rwanda Healing Project pages to learn more about this project.

 

BACKGROUND

In 1994, during a period of only 100 days from April 6 through mid-July, approximately one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu sympathizers were killed in Rwanda. Carried out mostly by two extremist Hutu militia groups, the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, this genocide is the largest organized killing of human beings in the shortest period of time in modern history. Its brutality and destruction left its marks all over this small and verdant country. Even 14 years later, everyone who survived carries the terror and trauma of genocide in his/her daily life.

In 2004 at an international conference in Barcelona, Lily Yeh, Founding director of Barefoot Artists, Inc., met Jean Bosco Musana Rukirande, Regional Coordinator of Red Cross in Gisenyi. Rukirande talked about the situation in Rwanda, 10 years after the 1994 Genocide; Yeh was deeply moved. She decided to visit Rukirande after her project in Korogocho, Kenya at the end of July that year. Rukirande showed her two sites, a crusty structure containing a mass grave of genocide victims in the Rugerero Sector of Rubavu District and a nearby survivors’ village. He told Yeh that both sites needed help urgently.

The mass grave

This need shaped the Rwanda Healing Project, which contains two simultaneous and complimentary programs: 1) the construction of the Genocide Memorial Park and, 2) the transformation of the Survivors’ Village. The Genocide Memorial program looks at the past, violence, destruction and death; the Survivors’ Village program deals with now and the future, development, new possibilities and hope. We can move forward to our future only when we can fully understand and embrace our past.

Thus, this multi-year, multi-dimensional art project expands the boundaries of art as a vehicle for healing and transformation of individuals, families and community. The process engages 100 mostly female-headed families with several hundred children from the Rugerero Survivors’ Village, dozens of workers and volunteers from the nearby city of Gisenyi, professionals from Kigali, as well as dozens of volunteers from the United States.

 

PROJECT GOALS

Healing through remembering
Healing through storytelling, art making and sports
Healing through creating hope for the future

1. Nurture the relationships established with residents and leaders of the host village to honor their grief and inspire hope, empowerment, vision, leadership, and means to continue the project throughout the year.

2. Provide precious opportunities for U.S. citizens, especially college students, to interact with people living in the third world to better understand our shared vision and global challenges.

3. Create a model of a sustainable village where local talents and creative energy are honored and international volunteers and experts find real situations to work to solve difficult global problems such as environmental deprivation, poverty, poor health care, lack of education, lack of hope, etc.

4. Contribute to the prevention of violence and war through effective documentation of project methodology and benefits to educate a wider audience about the impact of genocide on individuals, local communities, and the larger world.

 

HEALING THROUGH REMEMBERING: RUGERERO GENOCIDE MEMORIAL MONUMENT PARK

After seeing the forlorn condition of the mass graves in Rugerero during her initial visit in 2004, Yeh felt that if healing is to take place in the hearts of the survivors, a new genocide memorial needed to be built. It must have beauty, for beauty heals. Upon returning home, she developed her simple design, which was welcomed and supported by the provincial government.

In 2005, returning with volunteers Alan Jacobson, Terry Tempest Williams and Meghan Morris, Yeh recruited the help from China Road and Bridge Construction Company to start the building of the Rugerero Genocide Memorial. Hundreds of children and adults participated.

In March, 2007, Yeh returned to conduct mosaic workshops for ten adults, including master mason Francois and his apprentices. Together, they completed all of the mosaic work on the memorial monument.

(left) Lily Yeh conducting a mosaic workshop to train villagers, (right) Francois, the mason, and villagers mosaic the memorial monument

These words decorate the front site of the monument:

TWIBUKE
ABACU BAZIZE GENOCIDE 1994
TUZAHORITEKA TUBIBUKA
Remember
We will never forget the 1994 genocide.

The back of the monument contains these words:

MWATABARUTSE GITWARI
NTIDUTEZE KWIBAGIRWA
URUPFU MWAPTUYE
You died like heroes.
We will never forget how you died.

The villagers gave us these words for the Genocide Monument during the co-creative process of designing the monument. The officials also gave their approval and have designated the site as the official genocide memorial site for the whole Rubavu District.

The completed Rugerero Genocide Memorial Park with a monument and a bone chamber

The memorial was dedicated on April 5th, 2007, two days before the national day of mourning. Through the ceremony, the genocide memorial park was officially given to the government and villagers for safe-keeping.

(left) Dedication ceremony, Minister Joseph Habineza cutting ribbon, (right) Children witnessing in their new performance attire

Over one thousand children and adults attended the ceremony, including Mabete Niyonsaba Dieudonne, Executive Secrectary of Rugerero Sector, Barengayabo Ramadhan, Mayor of Rubavu District, and Joseph Habineza , Minister of Youth, Culture and sports from Kigali.

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Twibuke. Remember.

Lily Yeh first visited the mass grave made of rough concrete with no marking in the summer of 2004. Her heart sank because she knew that if her loved ones were buried here, her heart would never heal.

The structure looked more like an animal stable than a memorial grave. When survivors looked at how their loved ones were buried, they felt like they were killed twice.

Lily Yeh intuitively drew something womb-like and then placed the bone chamber inside the womb space, surrounded by greens. From a bleak space she tried to bring comfort and life back to a place of sorrow and deep slaughter.

As Lily Yeh developed the design she added colors and built a wall that would give comfort and create a rhythm. She felt this would bring some poetry and regularity to a space that has experienced such trauma and chaos.

A Chinese road and construction company brought machines and a group of trained Rwandan workers from the region to dig the foundation. Community members were overjoyed to have a professional team working on this deeply sensitive project.

These Rwandan workers had been with the Chinese construction company for many years. Some of them speak Chinese. It’s a good alliance, the workers learn skills and the company helps to build infrastructure with a labor force from the nation.

When the survivors community saw the professional help and equipment they felt that Barefoot Artists was taking the project seriously.

Here workers dig into the base of the bone chamber. This was very difficult work because the ground is filled with hard volcanic rocks.

There were always children everywhere ready to help.

Eager children bring energy and laughter to the project.

A Chinese engineer looks on as Rwandan workers lay the foundation for the new undulating sculptural wall.

Taken during the first phase of construction, this photograph shows the different materials used to create the wall.

Progress on the wall.

Finally construction on the wall is complete.

The thing Lily Yeh feared most about constructing the bone chamber was protecting everything from the moist soil. The solution was to seal the whole cement surface with tiles.

Lily Yeh brought the technique of mosaic making to the community.

In addition to sealing the surface of the monument from moisture the mosaic project also helped to build community.

At first the place was broken and the people were broken, just like the ceramic mosaic shards. Through working together and imagination, we create beauty.

Genocide survivors gave us the words for the front and back of the memorial. The front of the memorial says: Remember, We will never forget the 1994 genocide. The back says: You died like heroes. We will never forget how you died.

The space is vibrant with poetry and songs. They are mournful, sad, and broken, but with the hope of renewal through the beauty that we have created together.

Purple is the Rwandan color for mourning and rebirth so the community decided to paint part of the wall that color.

When bones were discovered during the excavation, they were placed in caskets.

Rwanda is a Catholic country. A big community and religious service is represented in this photograph.

After the ceremony the caskets were inserted into the chamber. The villagers decided to paint the walls sky blue.

A collection of bones.

The photograph was taken from one of the first major gatherings at our memorial site in 2006.

April 7, 2009 marked a National Day of Mourning.

On April 7, 2009, thousands of people from many villages walked for miles to visit this and many other memorial sites.

It was incredible to witness the community joining together from all around the region.

Wearing a purple scarf, the Executive Director of the Rugerero Sector testifies at the gathering.

People line up to enter into the bone chamber.

Some people opened up the caskets to look at the white bones, the heart of darkness.

Many people collapsed after experiencing the bone chamber.

For some people, fifteen years after the genocide, the grief was still to difficult to bear.

Remember, always remember.

Twibuke. Remember.