This month marks the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

Survivors who fled horror back home to rebuild their lives in London join the Mayor of London and 25 London schools for the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda

On May 20th 2019 students and teachers from 25 London schools will join a workshop at London’s City Hall to meet survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and reflect on what we can learn from Rwanda in London today.  This is the culmination of months of activities in schools.  The afternoon ends with a formal commemoration service attended by schools, Rwandans in London and Londoners connected to Rwanda.

In the early 1990s, co-founders of the Ishami Foundation Eric Murangwa Eugene and Jo Ingabire Moys never dreamed London would one day be their home.  They were living with their families in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, aware of mounting tensions but hoping peace would prevail. 

When the President’s plane was shot down and the genocide against the Tutsi began on April 7th 1994, Eric was a national hero – the goalkeeper for Rwanda’s biggest football club, Rayon Sports. Eric survived the genocide, hidden by his football teammates.  Jo was just five years old when she witnessed her father, brother and two sisters being killed in front of her but survived multiple gunshot wounds after a neighbour came to help the family. 

Jo is now a successful film industry professional.

Whilst Jo and Eric went into hiding, over a million people were killed in just 100 days.  The international community looked on and failed to take action.  The genocide was eventually stopped by the RPF – an army made up of Rwandan exiles.  But whilst most Rwandans and the new government wanted to build peace, there were attacks on remaining survivors by rebel groups intent on continuing the genocide for years to come.

Fearing for their lives, Jo and Eric moved to London where they joined a growing Rwandan community who were still recovering from the trauma of genocide and the pain of leaving home.  Eric, inspired by the bravery of his fellow teammates, dedicated himself to genocide education and sport for development and peace. Jo studied hard through school and university and became a film industry professional. 

Having met through family friendships and genocide education activities, in 2015 they decided to found Survivors Tribune – an organisation supporting survivors of recent genocides to speak about their experiences in public.  In 2018 Survivors Tribune joined with Eric’s sporting organisation Football for Hope Peace and Unity to form the Ishami Foundation. Eric and Jo believe there are lessons we can all learn from Rwanda.  Lessons about: how divisions begin and escalate; the human cost of polarisation; and the inspiring way in which Rwandans have built peace after terrible violence.

Eric with some of the young footballers. Image copyright: Ishami Foundation

Dr Zoe Norridge, Senior Lecturer in African Literature at King’s College London and Chair of the Ishami Foundation Board of Trustees, comments:

“Ishami’s aim is to draw on genocide survivor experience to connect us all to a sense of our common humanity.  This is all too relevant for students in London schools.  We live in precarious times: there is a very real danger that racism and the far right will cause ever greater divisions within our communities.  We believe that hearing from people who have lived through the consequences of such divisions helps young people to take action to stand up to prejudice and hatred.”

Eric Murangwa Eugene, Ishami Foundation CEO explains:

“We currently work with survivors, schools and universities all over the country – from St Andrew’s to Cardiff, from Brighton to Birmingham.  But for the 25th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi we wanted to focus our efforts on the capital and bringing schools together at City Hall to meet with survivors and reflect on the past.  London has been my home for over twenty years.  I’ve seized the chance to work with the Mayor’s team to connect this city with lessons from Rwanda, the country of my birth.”

Ishami Foundation partnered with Hampton School and King’s College London to produce teaching resources explaining the history of genocide alongside stories from survivors and other young people whose lives were changed in 1994.  Many of these accounts came from work being done by Jo Ingabire Moys for her 100 Stories for 100 Days project, which focuses on Rwandans telling their stories in their own words.

Andy Lawrence, Head of History at Hampton School, says such stories were a key motivation for him to join the project: 

“The genocide against the Tutsi is still hardly taught in schools.  After my students study the Holocaust it is tempting for them to think that the calls for ‘Never Again’ were heeded.  The events in Rwanda in 1994 prove to them that the world didn’t learn, that genocide can still take place today.  This project is unique in bringing students from across London together to interact with survivors.  Meeting a survivor is the most meaningful learning experience my students will have all year.  I can teach them the facts of the genocide but hearing directly from someone who lived through such horrific events takes their learning to a completely different level.”

The survivors, for their part, feel heard, feel that sharing their stories with the next generation is one of the most important things they can do.  On May 20th, 25 years after many of the Ishami Foundation founders, trustees, advisory board and speakers lost members of their immediate and extended family to genocide we will join together to remember the dead and reflect on how we can learn the lessons from Rwanda. 

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