Our JRC delegation has just finished our first full day in Kigali and it has been a full one.
We spent the morning at the WE-ACTx clinic, one of three in the country. Among other things, we learned about the important work this NGO is doing in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Rwanda. WE-ACTx is the model of a community based organization, working with 27 local orgs to help women and children with AIDS treatment, care and education. WE-ACTx was founded in 2004, ten years after the genocide, when Rwandan women suffering from AIDS learned that the ones who intentionally raped and infected them were receiving ARV treatment while waiting for trials at International Tribunals. The success of WE-ACTx is due in large part to the bravery of local communities determined to work together in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy.
We also visited the Rwandan national Genocide Memorial and Museum – an almost literally breathtaking experience for our group. Although many of us are veterans of Holocaust musuems, nothing could have prepared us for the power of this place.
Outside the museum is a memorial that is a literal mass grave – the resting place for 258,000 bodies. We gathered there, learned about the significance of thes site, then said Kaddish together. (That’s JRC member Tina Escobar above, leaving a stone on the memorial). I was also interviewed on Rwandan TV, where I had the opportunity to explain why, as Jews, it was so important to us to pay homage at this particular site.
The musuem itself is unique largely for the freshness of the wounds it seeks to commemorate. Looking at the exhibits it was difficult to fathom the pain of this society, still struggling to recover from a pain so recently inflicted. Rwanda is also somewhat unprecedented in its determination to rebuild a national community in which perpetrator and victim live side by side. I cannot begin to understand how such a thing could be possible – but I believe at the heart of this determination is a sacred lesson for the entire world.
To be continued…