Author Archives: MaureenFC

Reflection – A Sunday afternoon by the pool in Kigali

To be fair, I didn’t come up with this title. It’s from a fictional book about the genocide, and follows the relationship between an ex-pat businessman and a Tutsi waitress. And, no, it doesn’t have a happy ending, but it is beautifully written.

Yesterday morning, a driver from the Mille Collines Hotel took Lena (A contact from OZ), Dieudonne (A genocide survivor) and me to a market frequented by locals in Kimironko.

It was interesting, meeting the local population and admiring the spectacular array of fruit and vegetables on sale. When we returned, Lena had a business meeting so Dieudonne and I sat by the pool and listened to live music.

Milles Collines Pool.jpg

Without warning, I felt my throat constricting and eyes filling with tears as a well of emotion rose up and consumed me. I took a long slow walk around the garden and gave myself a good talking to. There seemed to be something hauntingly poignant about sitting in ‘Hotel Rwanda’ with a genocide survivor, trying to comprehend the scale of everything I have heard and seen over the past four days. It took another two hours for me to breathe easy. Being here is the ultimate lesson in forgiveness.

Posted in Dignity, Genocide

Warning – This blog contains some confronting remarks & images

The Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial Gardens

Today was never going to be an easy day. 259,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide are buried here. Personally, I find that number staggering and impossible to comprehend.

Shocking Statistics

  • The genocide lasted 100 days
  • 1,000,000 Rwandans lost their lives
  • 300,000 children were orphaned
  • 85,000 children became the head of their household
  • 2,000,000 became refugees
  • Two-thirds of the population were displaced

As most of you know, I have researched this subject in great detail but there were still several things that shocked me today.

  1. A common thread for survivors of the genocide here is that they knew their attackers, many were friends or neighbours. To know something is one thing. To hear individual survivors tell their personal stories and call their attackers by their names was harrowing. One lady said, “Patrick, my next door neighbour, came to kill us. The family were not well off and we had paid for their children’s education.”
  2. Part of the museum is dedicated to children. There are numerous photographs and below each a list of details:
    • The child’s name
    • Their age
    • Their favourite hobbies
    • Their favourite foods
    • Their favourite person
    • How they died

I will spare you by not citing an example.

Hotel Rwanda 6x4.jpgKGM Stain Glass Window 6x4.jpgVictims Photos 6x4.jpgVictims Skulls 6x4.jpg

3. Near the end, at the bottom of one display, there was a photograph of two round faced nuns, one with wire rimmed glasses. Immediately, my heart went out to them, they were here to help and must have witnessed heinous crimes and even lost their lives. The text beneath the picture explained that these two women were convicted for ‘crimes against humanity’ as they had handed a church full of Tutsi to the Interahamwe militias who had killed them all. Both women were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

To end on a positive note, many survivors whose family members are buried here spoke openly about how much they loved the Memorial Garden and how it was a place where they could feel both close to their loved ones and feel loved in return.

 

Posted in Dignity, Genocide

The Land of a Thousand Hills

It is never a good thing when you arrive at an International airport and are told, “I think you’re in the wrong place!” Fortunately, what the man meant was, “You need to go next door.”

So it was a relief to finally land at Kigali Airport and meet the enthusiastic Amos, who will be my guide while I am here in Rwanda. Much of the afternoon, I spent at the memorial for ten Belgian Peacekeepers, who were murdered at the start of the genocide while protecting the Prime Minister.

It was a sobering sight regardless of how much I had read about the attack prior to coming here. What was interesting was that the taxi driver who took me there had never been there before.

Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of Liberation Day.

Here’s a few images from my visit.

Belgian PK Building 6x4.jpgBelgian PK Memorial 6x4.jpgBPK Genocide Artwork 6x4.jpgNames of BPK 6x4.jpg

Posted in Dignity, Genocide, NGOs

Sydney – Antarctica – Rwanda

It is often said that the best things in life are free. Many would argue that flying Qantas could hardly be construed as gratis but today’s experience certainly was an unexpected pleasure. Australian’s frequently complain about flying and my fourteen-hour endeavour from Sydney to Johannesburg, some might see as a chore. But that’s not how I see it.

No bastard can get you! Once those doors are closed, you’re free. If you’ve forgotten something it’s tough. You get waited on hand and foot, depending on the airline, of course! Indulgence is key: reading, writing, watching movies, listening to music, eating and drinking – what’s not to like?

But today’s surprise, and it was a surprise given I have travelled to more than eighty countries, was that I had never flown a southerly route from Australia. We spent hours, in a cloudless sky, gazing down on the Antarctica ice flow. It was mesmerising. Spectacular would be an understatement. There was nothing but white, white and more white all the way to the horizon. Icebergs floating in small pools, the size of which I could not comprehend from 32,000 feet.

Unknown.jpg

I was so intent on reaching Rwanda, I had forgotten that old adage, it is better to travel than to arrive – and, today, it was.

Posted in Genocide

#WeSpeakCode

WP_20150515_001.jpg

 

On Friday 18th May, I was invited to attend an inspiring event called #WeSpeakCode. Held at the University Of Technology,  the coding event was run by Microsoft and attended by 800 teenagers with a passion for IT from low socio-economic schools around Sydney. So what has this got to do with dignity you might ask.

At both the morning and afternoon session, The Smith Family chose a student speaker to thank Microsoft and all the other contributors at the event. The student who spoke in the afternoon was a Year 9 teenager from Auburn Girls School. While the quality of this video might not be fantastic, the content is breathtaking. In eight years of working in the not for profit sector right around the globe, Jumana is, without doubt, the most impressive student I have met. People who witnessed this speech or have seen the video since, including Microsoft CEO Pip Marlow have said such things as: future employee, future prime minister, world leader.

Please take two minutes to judge for yourself. I now know that the world’s further is in safe hands – enjoy!

Posted in Dignity, Marginalised People, Technology

’71

It is not that long since terrorism was a daily occurrence in the first world. A harsh reminder that nothing is ever as it seems and no one can be trusted. A must if you care at all about the state of the world.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

Baulkam Hills Ladies Troupe.jpg

Earlier this week, I was privileged to be invited to attend the opening night of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, written and directed by Ros Horin in collaboration with Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe; on whose lives it is based.

“Women have been the spoils of was for centuries. In some societies, rape is so commonplace that no words exist to even discuss it. It’s just how things are. And have always been,” says director Ros Horin.

This year the United Nations has declared that the abuse of women in war is a war crime and will be prosecuted. India has been in uproar over rape. And as Hilary Clinton declared, in her now famous speech, “women’s rights are human rights,” and they must be fully instituted this century. The tipping point is here.

It has taken an almost five year journey to the Opera House for Horin and these four extraordinary women survivors.

Horin says, “I felt strongly from the start, that I wanted to have the four women, whose stories are at the core of this work, to be in the show. It was extremely painful at times, as well as joyous, inspiring.

Many times, Horin asked the women if they wanted if they wanted to go on.

The answer was always the same. “if this work can help even one women’s life, give her the confidence and courage to break free, then it is worth doing.”

I have been fortunate to see rehearsals of the play as well as full performances at the Belvoir Street Theatre and then, this week, at the Opera House. To my mind, it has been worth doing for another reason. The dignity shown by these four women who have suffered crimes that we can barely imagine is truly inspirations but to see how they have grown throughout the evolution that brought us to Wednesday evening and how tall they now stand, is miraculous. A credit to the four women but also to Horin, who has nurtured them on their confronting but cathartic journeys.

I first met Horin through my work for Australia for UNHCR and introduced her to Aminata Conteh, as she was then. A former refugee from Sierra Leone, I have mentored this young woman for seven years. During that time she has married and has two young children. Aminata always tells me, “You have changed my life.” The truth is she has changed mine too.

BHALT.jpg

Posted in Dignity, Marginalised People, NGOs, Refugees

Holy Cow!

There’s a new law in India that penalises people for up to five years for slaughtering a cow. Sexual harassment against a woman carries a two year sentence – sad but true.

cow image.jpg

Read more here:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102474625#.

Posted in Dignity, Marginalised People

SELMA

Last night I saw the new Cuba Gooding Jr movie Selma. The film chronicles three months in 1965 where Dr Martin Luther King led a campaign  to secure equal voting rights for coloureds in the face of violent opposition.

The story of Martin Luther King is well known but this particular event, less so. It is easy to walk away from the film thinking how far we have come. For me, it was a stark reminder of how much is left to do and that oppression and brutality are not a third-world problem. It is in all of our backyards.

I saw the film as a reminder of how one simple act of cruelty or a cutting remark can marginalise a fellow human being.

In the words of the man himself,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Posted in Celebrity, Dignity, Marginalised People, Movies

Quote of the Day

‘Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.’

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Posted in Uncategorized