herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

We produced a football and the first game of GAA in Rwanda began

Dublin football manager Jim Gavin helps a young farmer take a milk churn to the dairy
Photo: Sean Curtin / True Media.
Dublin football manager Jim Gavin helps a young farmer take a milk churn to the dairy Photo: Sean Curtin / True Media.

Rwanda is a country of hills, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, laughing children and markets full of busy people, drummers, dancers, farmers, artisans and craftsmen.

Twelve million people occupy 26,338 square kilometres, roughly the size of Munster. The land is rich and fertile, the climate pleasant.

There are many thoughts and emotions that I bring home from Bothar's Rwandan mission of the past five days.

A guided visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial takes you to the heart of the horror visited on the people of this tiny nation.

The statistics are shocking - one million massacred in 100 days. The murderers used machetes, clubs, guns and any blunt tool they could find to inflict as much pain as possible.

Neighbours turned on neighbours, friends on friends, family members on family members.

The militia set a target of 1,000 killings every 20 minutes in Kigali alone. Rwanda had turned into a nation of sadistic killers and innocent victims.

It was virtually impossible to visualise that the Kigali of today is any relation to the same city of the genocide of 22 years ago.

In the Children's Room, we see pictures of only a few of the thousands of children who lost their lives in the genocide against the Tutsi people.

We see a photo of little sisters Irene and Uwamezi Umutonin, aged six and seven. We read that their favourite toy was a doll they shared, their favourite food was fresh fruit and they were "daddy's girls". Cause of death: a grenade thrown into their shower.

Orphans

They were among countless thousands of children who were slaughtered. There were more than 300,000 orphans and 85,000 children who became heads of their households .

A Unicef survey estimated that 80pc of Rwandan children experienced a death in the family during those 100 days; 70pc witnessed someone being killed or injured; and 90pc believed they would die.

As we left the room we saw the stories of the children who survived; from what we witnessed outside, they are committed to living together not as Hutu or Tutsi but as Rwandans.

The gestures of forgiveness have been astounding, families somehow consigning atrocities inflicted on them by their neighbour to the past.

That's the essence of what we were here for - Bothar and the Irish people have developed a programme that's helping reconstruct the lives of genocide widows and their families.

I saw again yesterday how that's been achieved. Two years ago, the agency gave an Irish heifer to a widowed farmer with four young children. Today, thanks to the milk she is getting and the surplus available for sale after she feeds and clothes her children, she has been able to put a water harvester in place and get electricity into her home.

In villages like this, children get one meal a day. Meat is simply not affordable. Bread costs the same as it does in Ireland, milk is €2.50 a litre, but the average monthly income is €15.

We arrived in one village with a box of jerseys given to us by GAA HQ. Word of the Bothar bus spread quickly, and within minutes there were 30 children running barefoot down the dirt track, laughing with excitement.

We produced a football, and the first ever Gaelic game in Rwanda began.

For all the horrors, the smiles on those young faces are the images I will hold on to the most.

Why would you donate to Bothar? I'll let a poem explain why. It was attached to the paperwork for an in-calf heifer donated by a Cork farmer:

As I was loading my animal, I thought what she might do

Bringing dignity to a family, and building their life anew

For we all are their brothers, and we must show them how;

And that's the very reason, For the giving of this cow.

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