Kwibuka26: A Reflection by UGHE Student, Orietta Agasaro, MGHD ’20

As part of the Kwibuka26 Commemoration activities on Butaro Campus, Orietta Agasaro writes a message of hope to survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as well as those who lost loved ones during this time.

When I think about what Rwanda has surmounted in the last 26 years, I’m reminded of a proverb by Charles Dickens’; “ I see a beautiful city and a beautiful people rising from this abyss. I see the life for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy.” I, like many others in my generation, have the immense privilege of enjoying security, peace and freedom in my daily life. As I reflect on Kwibuka26 (‘to remember’), the 26th annual commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, I have a heightened awareness of what was sacrificed – toil, suffering and even lives – to put a stop to the Genocide. I was born after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one of the post-genocide generation acutely aware of the suffering endured by more than a million victims of this genocide, and those who compromised their health and even gave their life to end the violence. I am also indebted to the valiant men and women who have, in the years proceeding this, given their all for Rwanda’s rebirth and reconstruction. 

Growing up, I remember being taught about the ethnic divide that led to the genocide, but also about the concept of “Ndi Umunyarwanda” (‘I am Rwandan’). “Ndi Umunyarwanda” is a national program that aims to promote unity and reconciliation by encouraging conversation around the causes and consequences of the genocide, and how to rebuild the country focusing on the national theme “Remember-Unite-Renew”. Furthermore, Rwanda was able to advance significantly in its pursuit of unity and reconciliation through several home-grown solutions implemented at the community level, and those include the Gacaca (local community courts), Abunzi (community mediators), Itorero (youth civic education camps), Ingando (solidarity camps) and many more. I had the opportunity to attend Itorero in 2015 and it not only broadened my knowledge of Rwanda’s history but it also reinforced my Rwandan values, namely “Ndi Umunyarwanda” The national adherence to and application of “ Ndi Umunyarwanda” and home-grown solutions has driven , and is still driving, Rwanda’s rapid and impressive development.

Staff, students and faculty on Butaro Campus lit candles to symbolize hope and a bright future for Rwanda as part of UGHE’s commemoration activities.

Looking at the milestones my country has achieved, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by a sense of pride and thanksgiving. As a young woman, I take pride in knowing that women have been, and currently are, important actors in Rwanda’s reconstruction and development; it gives me hope and confidence for my future, and the future of my female friends and classroom colleagues. In my country, the promotion of women is one of the many milestones  birthed through this focus on unity, particularly in decision-making and leadership positions. Rwanda has been recognized globally for its tireless effort in promoting gender equity across all sectors; we are proud to have the highest percentage of women in parliament anywhere in the world.

Our health sector is exemplary in this regard, the systems of which were revived and rebuilt by multiple strong and resilient women in Rwanda, including UGHE’s Vice Chancellor, Prof. Agnes Binagwaho. Thinking back to the time when she gave a lecture to my MGHD class, I was inspired by her clear dedication to improving healthcare delivery, returning to a devastated country to find innovative ways to promote health for all, especially the most vulnerable in a post-genocide era. Her lecture reminded me why I wanted to study global health delivery in the first place; to contribute to my country’s effort in improving the health and well-being of the poor and vulnerable. I also look up to other pioneers in the rebirth of our health system; the First Lady, Her Excellency Mrs. Jeanette Kagame, Dr. Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the national Director of Mental Health at Rwanda Biomedical Center/Ministry of Health, and the many, many frontline female health providers and community health workers who tirelessly work to improve the health of Rwandans daily. Rwanda’s strong national governance, paired with leadership at the community level, has been key in finding equitable health solutions that promote healthcare for all.

From the examples set by these women, I’ve learnt that a focus on social justice and a strong moral compass  are some of the cornerstones to success. With scarce resources, Rwanda has managed to transform a broken health system into one that is acclaimed worldwide through its evidence-based, community-oriented, and equity-driven approach to health. After the complete devastation the system experienced in 1994, some would call it a miracle that 15 years later over 90% of all Rwandans would be medically insured, with the poor enjoying free health coverage through Rwanda’s Mutuelle de Santé (Community Health Insurance) scheme. This is paired with  significant strides the country has made in reducing HIV and malaria rates, decreasing infant and maternal mortality and increasing the access to vaccination. 

The strength and effectiveness of Rwanda’s healthcare system is now more apparent than ever as the country is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The multiple measures the country has taken to protect its citizens is a testament to our government’s belief in the value of strong health systems. Additionally, the commitment of all Rwandans everywhere within the country to abide by the instructions recommended by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, speaks not only of the importance of good leadership, but also of the values of Rwandans themselves. Each year, Kwibuka is a time of national solidarity, and this year,the Rwandan people stand in solidarity not just with one another, but also with the multiple frontline health workers, police, immigration officers, ministries and health organisations working to combat this destructive virus.  We can surely hope that if the country continues to deploy its efforts in combating this pandemic, alongside the world, we will undoubtedly win this battle, as we have many battles before.

I feel a surge of pride for belonging to a nation as bright as mine and of hope for what the future holds for Rwanda. My hope is greatly inspired not only by Rwanda’s good leadership but also by Rwanda’s highly motivated and socially conscious youth, including my UGHE colleagues. I admire the audacity that my generation has to bring up difficult conversations and their ability to find creative and critical ways to arrive at solutions. Furthermore, this past couple of months spent at UGHE have shown me what is possible when brilliant minds driven by humanity join to contend for health equity, and it looks bright. 

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to keep the flame that was lit by courageous Rwandan men and women burning. As a young woman and future global health leader, I strive to contribute to my country’s development by being an advocate for equity and social justice, treating all with the same compassion shown by those who’ve come before me, and ensuring that the voices long silenced by the majority are finally heard.