The hills of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, and site of the “Gathering of Forgiveness” conference.
I just attended a remarkable week-long international conference called the “Gathering of Forgiveness” at the La Palisse Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, the “land of a thousand hills.” Invited by an organization called Gardens of Forgiveness, lead by Reverend Lyndon Harris, we were there to learn about how healing can take place through following a path of forgiveness, and to look into the possibility of creating a Garden of Forgiveness there.
The conference was held at the La Palisse Hotel, Kigali.
MIZERO’s vision is to bring, build, and spread hope to Rwandan children. Last year, they toured the US and Canada, ending with a concert at the United Nations.
2009 marks the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when nearly one million innocent women, men and children died over a period of 100 days, leaving many widowed and children orphaned and traumatized. During the conference, we learned about what happened in 1994, heard testimony by both survivors and perpetrators of the genocide, and stories of how Rwandans have learned how to forgive each other to be able to heal themselves and their country. It’s vital that they do that, because otherwise this society would continue to be broken apart by the tragedy here.
The church in Ntarama, where 5,000 people took sanctuary from grenade blasts by the genocidiares. Only 10 people survived the attacks at this location.
The government, run by President Paul Kagame, is remarkable in that it is institutionalizing forgiveness as a national policy, so his country can heal from the terrible scars wrought by the genocide. It’s the most intense place I’ve ever been, given this background, but with wonderful people — gentle, expressive, smart and ambitious for their country. It’s the most stable government in Africa, and one of the safest, despite the problems of Uganda and Burundi nearby (caused in part by the Genocidaires who fled there 15 years ago).
We visited a Reconciliation Village where victims and perpetrators of the genocide live side-by-side in peace through forgiveness.
It will take my son Max and me a long time to digest the intense and action-packed experience that we’ve both had. We attended a concert of the Mizero children and heard Burundi and Uganda musicians perform. Artists from a group called “Today Marks the Beginning” shared a massive art piece on which you could write or speak words of forgiveness. We went out into the countryside to visit reconciliation cooperatives and villages and saw churches where many thousands of people who fled to them for sanctuary were killed. We attended a panel discussion with young university students who will be taking Rwanda’s message of forgiveness out into the world. We shared the garden idea with cabinet ministers and the Vice-Mayor of Kigali, articulate young leaders intent on making their country a model of responsible development and of reconciliation in the world.
We took a day off to visit the Akagera National Park where we saw many animals and birds, including giraffe, hippos, baboons, and these zebras and cape buffalo.
Some members of Gardens of Forgiveness with a group of new friends. Julie’s son Max is in khakis, on the right.
Our Gardens of Forgiveness group also visited four possible garden sites. And one special evening, at the famous Milles Collines Hotel made famous in the movie Hotel Rwanda, I ran a short design exercise that included 15 members of our conference and the hotel manager and his staff. I’ll share the results in another posting.
Our Gardens of Forgiveness group and friends visits the possible garden site. From left: Carly Ritter, Pastor Jerry King, Julie’s son Max, Reverend Lyndon Harris, and Julie.
I know I’ll be back to Rwanda to build a garden there. It’s truly an inspiration.