(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These words decorate the front site of the monument:
ABACU BAZIZE GENOCIDE 1994
We will never forget the 1994 genocide.
The back of the monument contains these words:
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 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.
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.