Voices of Rwanda Presentation with Taylor Krauss on April 20

Please join us on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 4 PM in Konover Auditorium for a special presentation by Taylor Krauss, Founder of Voices of Rwanda.


Voices of Rwanda:
A Conversation and Film Screening with Taylor Krauss

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
4:00 PM, Konover Auditorium


Sixteen years ago, in April 1994, genocide broke out in Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people were brutally killed by their neighbors. Today, survivors, bystanders, rescuers, and perpetrators are all searching for ways to live with one another and with their difficult past.

Taylor Krauss, founding director of Voices of Rwanda, will be presenting clips from his filmed testimony  from survivors of the Rwandan genocide.  Krauss founded Voices of Rwanda in 2006 to record and preserve testimonies of Rwandans to ensure that their stories inform the world about genocide and help prevent future human rights atrocities.  Voices of Rwanda currently has a large film archive of testimony and is working with organizations and schools in Rwanda and the United States to make the testimonies available for education and research, as well as community healing.

To find out more information on Voices of Rwanda please visit:

Download the poster for the event (PDF, 1 MB)

Listen to a podcast with Taylor Krauss from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Voices on Genocide Prevention Podcast from December 17, 2009.

Rwanda Human Rights Delegation (Part 3)

July 5, 2009

In Rwaza, there was a sign on the town hall.  The only words I recognized were “Murakoza Neza a Rwaza” (Welcome to Rwaza) and jenoside, spelled in contrasting red letters.  I took a photo of the sign, as well as  another along side the road.  Shops and houses too along the road we took back to Kigali from Musanze had messages about the genocide stenciled on to them, near the roof, the same message over and over.  The word jenoside was often painted in red, to accentuate the bloody meaning behind it. 

Reconcilation sign alongside the road to Musanze.

Last night, I showed my host sister my photos from the trip and asked if she would translate the signs for me, which she did:

Welcome to the Rwaza district.  You are welcome here.  The people love you.   May you stop thinking the genocide ideology.   


Be at home, be peaceful.  May you stop thinking the genocide ideology.  Let’s have peace and reconciliation.

I haven’t seen signs like this anywhere else in Rwanda so far.

The concept of dignity plays a major role in Rwandan society today.  Dignity is everywhere– in speeches at the Liberation Day celebration, on signs and billboards, and  in every conversation it seems.  Respect for human dignity.  It’s reassuring that the government recognizes that human dignity had been lost, and has been working so hard to restore that.  The main principles of human rights here are dignity, justice, and equality.  It’s an interesting way of framing things.  From my conversations with the Rwandan delegates, when asked which human right most mattered to them, the answer was invariably, the right to life, and the right to education.  Thse seem to be the rights which have most egregiously been ignored here.  It’s interesting though, because the right to life here means something very different than the right to life in US dialog.  Here it means the right to live and not be killed by your neighbor.  In the US, the right to life is more of an abortion/euthanasia concern.  Aside from some of the roughest urban areas, most people in the US don’t have to wonder if they will survive the violence around them to see the next day. 

The other thing that I find really striking here is the emphasis on progress and moving forward.  There is an enormous push to have the latest technology.  Most everyone– aside from the absolute poorest– has a cell phone (many people have more than one) and texting is the main form of communication.  My friend Sarah’s host family didn’t have running water, but they did have an incredible entertainment system– television, stereo, laptop– and her host sister had seen every episode of Lost and 24.  Which is more than I can say, having never watched either of those shows myself.  The technology is here, but the basic infrastructure is not.

Rwanda Human Rights Delegation (Part 2– Site Visit to Rwaza)

July 2, 2009, Musanze, Rwanda

Today we got up bright and early to leave Kigali at 7 AM to go to the Rwaza Sector in northwestern Rwanda.  The drive was stunningly beautiful– Rwanda as a whole has one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen, with tall, lush mountains covered in terrace farm areas, banana trees, sugar cane, and tall grass among with even taller blue and purple volcanic mountains in the distance.  To get to Rwaza, we took windy roads through the mountains and valleys, and went around so many hairpin turns that I completely lost track.  The bus ride was supposed to take 2 hours; instead it took closer to 3, as the busload of us was very heavy and the bus could only crawl up many of the hills.  But I’m still impressed by how good both the roads and drivers have been here– I’ve definitely traveled on roads in far worse shape!

When we arrived in Rwaza, we first met with some community leaders and they talked to us about land reform.  Land reform here in Rwanda is interesting– apparently about 4% of the land in Rwanda has been redistributed, mostly to genocide survivors, widows, and orphans (and often a combination thereof).   Women (particularly widows, single mothers, and children without a living or known father) tend to be most vulnerable to having others make claims on their land, and its not unusual to have people actually succeed in forcing them off their land, sometimes their own family members.  Working in the fields is often women’s work– we passed many women digging in the small plots of farmland and often bent over a hoe with an infant strapped onto their back.   What’s interesting though is that there are regulations for the people on the redistributed land that they can only grow one kind of crop, which is problematic, as they told us that ideally they would like to be able to use their land to grow 2 or 3 kinds of foods, not just one.  The terraced farmland is consolidated, so a family or small community works together to grow just one thing.  It was unclear how much sharing goes on with families producing other crops, though I got the impression that the answer was not much.  And the families complained that they were only allowed to grow maize, and thus didn’t always have enough food.

The difficulty was that this entire conversation occurred in Kinyarwanda, of course, but the translators (understandably) grew more and more lax in their translations, so a 5 minute conversation in Kinyarwanda would be boiled down to one sentence, or sometimes even just a few words, in English.  So, the conversations with the women living in these communities was not as clear to me as I might have hoped.  It quickly became clear to me that land reform has some very gendered aspects to it, but when I asked the women we interviewed if they felt that women had more difficulties accessing the land which they were entitled to, they said no, that it was the same for both men and women.  But looking at this community of previously landless people who had been granted government land as widows and orphans and seeing almost no men, it seemed so clear to me that land in Rwanda truly is a feminist issue.

Anyway, we spoke with the women at their houses, which required hiking up a sizable portion of the mountain in Rwaza which was both gorgeous and also exhausting– some of the paths were incredibly steep, and the locals who led us to our destination took us on a couple of “shortcuts” which were even steeper!  We had a “Fanta break” at one point, but after hiking, it’s really not soda that one craves, but just plain water!  Sadly, that was unavailable, and I thought of the irony that in this incredibly impoverished community, we all sat and shared an unhealthy beverage with them, rather than providing them with what might actually be most useful.  The fact that Coke is cheaper than water here just makes me sad.  Also, I NEVER drink soda in the US, and at first it was kind of charming to drink it here out of the old fashioned bottles written in French, but the novelty and appeal of either Coke or Fanta has definitely worn off.

Anyway, the second family that we interviewed made lunch for everyone– Global Youth Connect had provided either the food, or money to purchase the food, since subsistence farmers in Rwanda (and much of the world, actually) live off of the equivalent of a dollar a day.  It was also really interesting seeing the contrast between the Rwandese delegates and the Rwandans that we were interviewing.  In Kigali, everyone wears fashionable Western clothing.   Whereas in rural Rwanda, everyone was in traditional skirts, but what appeared to be donated western shirts and t-shirts that were in ok condition on the adults, but were literally in tatters on the young children.  A few women wore full traditional clothing, and looked slightly more well to do, but most wore some sort off hodgepodge, and the poverty level was tangible.  One of the older widows stopped me and gestured for money from me– I felt terrible for leaving her empty handed, but honestly, giving her a few hundred Rwandan francs — aside from the fact that we were specifically instructed not to– would have been an entirely unsustainable, and possibly divisive, form of assistance. My friend Cynthia has fundraised for AVEGA, an organization of genocide widows which does really great work here in Rwanda, and I decided to make a contribution to them instead.  It may not help this exact woman who looked at me today with sad eyes and wizened hands, but AVEGA can provide ongoing support, whereas my 500 francs could not.

Rwanda Human Rights Delegation (Part 1- Kigali Memorial Centre)

The Global Youth Connect Human Rights Delegation was very well structured, with the first day comprising of a small group discussion of the articles, book chapters, and films on Rwanda that we had all read and watched before the program, as well as an overview of cultural expectations and norms.  Our first site visit was to the Kigali Memorial Centre, the main genocide museum in Rwanda.

These are my notes, a combination of verbatim statistics and sentences from the exhibits at the Kigali Memorial Centre interwoven with my experiences being there at the Centre.

St. Paul’s, the Catholic guesthouse where we’re staying with 40 dormitory rooms and a few common spaces served as a refuge for 2,000 people during the genocide.  Whereas the St. Famile church, just meters up the hill from St. Paul’s, openly collaborated with the interhamwe, the Hutu militias. In just 3 months, over 1 million were killed, tens of thousands were tortured, mutilated, and raped, and tens of thousands suffered from machete wounds and starvation. Following the genocide, there were 300,000 orphans and 85,000 child-headed households. The number of foreign troops used for the evacuation of westerners at the start of the genocide would have been sufficient to stop it up front, had they been used for peacekeeping, rather than evacuation purposes. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Medicins Sans Frontiers were the only international NGOs that remained in Rwanda during the genocide.

In the aftermath, there were 2 million refugees, with camps in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. Over 2/3 of the population of Rwanda was displaced, fleeing out of fear or guilt, or held hostage.

At least 500,000 women were raped by HIV positive men. The women were not provided access to drugs or medical care, yet the HIV positive planners of the genocide detailed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda at Arusha, Tanzania, were provided access to food and antiretroviral treatments.

In Kigali alone, there were thousands of roadblocks and mass graves.

Over 300,000 have been reburied at the Kigali Memorial Centre in mass graves among beautiful and peaceful gardens. Each coffin in the mass graves contains remains of between 10-50 victims. 75,000 names of victims are inscribed on the garden walls surrounding the graves. Families continue to bring bones and remains to be buried at the Centre and new mass graves are dug to accommodate the ever-expanding number of bodies. As one mass grave is closed and sealed, a new one will be dug and filled along the hillside.

The museum is incredibly well done– simple, powerful, and thought-provoking. The exhibits on the first level explain Rwandan history from colonial times to the present, including the genocide in graphic detail, with the events leading up to it and moments where it could have possibly been prevented, had other actions been taken.  In the cenre of the museum, after you’ve passed through the history of Rwanda and the genocide, there are three interior rooms: one with photographs of victims hanging simply on pieces of wire; one glass cases of bones and skulls eerily illuminated in an otherwise dark room, with a hypnotic voice listing names of those killed; and a third room with clothing that the victims were wearing when they were killed, everything from traditional African fabrics to a Cornell University sweatshirt.

Upstairs there is a detailed exhibit about a handful of the thousands of children who were killed in the genocide, in heartbreaking detail. The exhibit starts with a girl of 2 months, and finishes with a 17 year old boy. The causes of death listed for each child are unthinkable.  The photos of the children are enormous and translucent– they cover the windows and the sun shines through to illuminate them. It’s an ingenious use of space and natural light, and the sunshine coming through the photos of smiling children at birthday parties and siblings together in their homes, makes the tragedy of their early loss of life feel even more devastating. Captions give information about the children’s favorite foods, best friends, and goals in life. The plaque for a 10 year old boy, David Murgiraneza breaks my heart: His last words, as he was tortured to death, were “UNAMIR will come for us.” [UNAMIR was the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, a tiny peacekeeping operation put in place before the genocide to oversee the Arusha Peace Accords in 1993.]

But neither UNAMIR or anyone else ever did.

Beyond the children’s exhibit, there is an exhibit providing the history of other genocides in the 20th century, starting with the Hereros in 1909 in what was then South West Africa and is now Namibia, and finishing with Bosnia and the massacre at Sbrenica in 1995.  It is definitely a site that requires more than one visit to take everything in.

Rwanda Human Rights Delegation (Introduction)

Tonight, just as I arrived home, the clouds erupted into a summer storm. Immediately, I went to shut the windows in my apartment, but then paused and kept one open. I stood by the window, watching and listening to the rain pouring down outside, and realized that this was the first time I’d seen rain in over a month. It’s currently the dry season in East Africa– the deep red earth was dusty and dry. Here in Connecticut, the rain cools the black pavement around me, and the tall oak trees seem even more lush and verdant than usual. The contrast between my life in Rwanda and my life here seems vast.

I meant to blog while I was there, but it never quite happened. For one thing, for the full first week I was in Rwanda I had no internet– even at internet cafes, the wireless was touch and go. I since found a free wireless signal near where we were staying, but only if I sat in a certain spot, and even then, it wasn’t the most reliable thing.

But, even if internet weren’t an issue, writing created its own set of challenges. It’s not the writing itself– I wrote prolifically as soon as I arrived– 50 typed pages (single spaced) and an additional 2 notebooks full of notes, musings, experiences, and a 3rd notebook started. Writing was definitely not the issue.

But, I really wanted to take time to process those experiences before sharing them. I learned intimate details of suffering and survival, of hope and loss, and I wanted to make sure that I maintain the trust and confidence of those who have shared their experiences with me, and to share those experiences (when appropriate) in a responsible way. So, I didn’t blog while I was there.

But this evening, back home in Connecticut, as the rain falls outside my window, I feel ready to write again.

If I had to sum up Rwanda in 2 words, they would be “beautiful” and “depressing.” Being here has been surreal– it’s been both incredibly moving and uplifting, but then the next moment totally gut-wrenching, which I suppose is no surprise. I am so grateful that I brought my yoga mat, because it’s not only provided me with an avenue to attempt to regain balance in my life here, but it’s also provided cushioning while sitting on concrete floors conducting interviews. I seriously may kiss my ergonomic desk chair once I get back to the office. (July 10, 2009)

So, how did I end up in Rwanda for a month this summer?

Basically, to make a long story short, I applied and was accepted to participate in a human rights delegation through the organization, Global Youth Connect, which offers young people from a range of ethnic, national, economic and religious backgrounds the opportunity to meet with human rights activists and officials and take action on pressing human rights issues in post-conflict societies, including Rwanda and Bosnia. The program participants also engage in service projects with local organizations that are working to improve social conditions in those countries.

I had been to sub-Saharan Africa several times before, and had traveled and volunteered in South Africa, Ghana, and Namibia, but was unsure of what to expect from Rwanda. Fifteen years ago, between 800,000 and 1 million people were killed in a genocide that attempted to destroy the Tutsi minority and targeted moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Since then, the new government has made progress in restoring stability and security to a ravaged society, but there are many problems still to be addressed. I was going to Rwanda to learn about these problems, and through the human rights workshop and volunteer projects, do what little I could as an individual to try to help make a difference.

Spending a month volunteering anywhere can have only a minimal impact, if any, and I don’t claim to have any in-depth understanding of Rwandese life from just a few weeks as a visitor there, but I’ve gotten some glimpses and a few stories that I’d like to share. I’ll be updating this blog with my journal entries from June and July 2009 over the next few weeks. Some stories will be amusing, some will be surprising, some will be beautiful, and some will be heartbreaking. This is my experience in Rwanda.