Remembering Rwanda - 20 years on

11 Apr 2014   |   Blog   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Rwanda, anniversary, humanitarian emergency   |   No comments

Rwandan refugees in Goma

This year we remember one of the worst genocides of our lifetimes and the hundreds of thousands of women, men and children who lost their lives in the violence that engulfed Rwanda just twenty years ago.

In the 100 days that followed the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, it is estimated that an average of six people were killed every minute of every hour of every day, while the international community failed to intervene.

In 1994 Caritas Australia, then Australian Catholic Relief, was amongst the first international development agencies to respond to the humanitarian emergency in Rwanda. Together with local partners in Tanzania, Burundi and Zaire, we accompanied Caritas Rwanda as they worked to address the needs of a nation ravaged by war.

Australians responded to the Rwandan genocide with phenomenal compassion and generosity. Within the first year, our appeal for the humanitarian response saw $3.4 million raised in solidarity with those women, men and children whose lives were uprooted by the fighting. In partnership with local agencies, Australian Catholic Relief provided essential food, water, shelter and healthcare for affected communities; provided care and trauma counselling for unaccompanied children; and ultimately supported people to return home and rebuild their livelihoods.

In 1996, close to two million Rwandan refugees were still living on the margins in camps in Tanzania and Zaire. While these vulnerable women, men and children were ultimately to return to Rwanda over the coming year, many returned to find their homes occupied, their crops destroyed, and their communities still rife with violence, poverty and injustice.

Walking in solidarity with these communities before, during and after the headlines, Caritas Australia continued to support long-term development programs in Rwanda.

Rwandan refugees in Goma

Throughout 1997 and 1998, Caritas Australia provided building equipment, supported a carpentry training program, and empowered communities not just to rebuild their houses, but also their homes. With generous support from the Australian community, our programs offered assistance to widows, unaccompanied children, people with disability, and elderly people most vulnerable to the structural violence that continues long after conflict comes to an end. With assistance from the Australian Government, Caritas Australia constructed new water supplies to improve the health and livelihoods of up to 85,000 people in Rwanda’s most vulnerable communities.

This year, we join our Caritas family in Australia and across the globe to pray for the lives, and communities devastated by the Rwandan genocide. As we reflect on the gravity of this loss and injustice, we bear witness to the courage and strength of our brothers and sisters in Rwanda and stand with these communities as they fearlessly rebuild a nation and restore hope for the future.

The power of God’s love and compassion calls us to honour the dignity of all people and to ensure our global community never again allows such an event to scar our history.

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