Letters from Africa: Genocide memorial

May, 22, 2011
5/22/11
5:08
PM ET
Editor's Note: In this space, Penn teammates Dau Jok and Zack Rosen will provide a series of blog updates on their trip to Africa and Dau's work to start up the Dut Jok Youth Foundation to help his native Sudan. For more on the tragic yet inspiring reasons behind Dau's mission, read Dana O'Neil's story here. Also make sure to check out the first entry in the blog journal.

From Dau: KIGALI, Rwanda -- The country of Rwanda is in no way, shape or form what we as Americans and foreigners who have never been here imagine it to be. Kigali is a very impressive city -- from its well-maintained roads to the development of neighborhoods to the placement of armed police on large intersections. Almost 100 percent of the men around Kigali and most of Rwanda wear long pants. In the city, women wear mainly skirts while the more rural people wear local clothing. There were women sweeping the roads as we navigated through the city.

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Courtesy of Dau JokThe Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum was established a decade ago and serves as a reminder of the horror Rwanda suffered through in the 1990s.
One highlight of the trip thus far was the visit to the genocide memorial. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum came as the result of a resolution by the Kigali City Council in 1999, and the first victims' burial took place in 2001. The memorial's four main objectives are to restore dignity of the dead, to inform people about the Rwandan genocide and the consequences, to serve as a form of documentation, and to be a support system for the orphans and widows. It is divided into several sections, including an exterior tour of mostly gardens and the interior which has videos, slideshows, boards, sculptures, remains of victims, belongings of the victims, and rooms on the Balkans, Holocaust, Cambodia, Armenia and Namibia genocides.

The hardest part of the museum for me was the videos of the genocide in which bodies were piled up. There were images of kids with their skulls cut open, men without fingers, people with mutilated parts, etc. I broke down because I physically felt and accepted what humans are capable of and I felt part of the problem. The world is so fascinated with learning about genocides and invests so much in looking into the past that we forget about the present. We are not doing anything to stop genocides right now. Our time should be spent doing what we can to stop human suffering rather than spend so much time looking into the past.

From Zack: Hey everyone. I would like to build on what Dau has shared thus far and offer some of my own impressions and thoughts. Rwanda is an unbelievably gorgeous country. The land is pure, the air is clean and some of the pictures are simply surreal. What people did to each other on this beautiful land around 17 years ago, though, is as ugly as it gets and it cannot be ignored. The Kigali Genocide Memorial captures and documents this horror of human capability powerfully and the message is clear: The genocide could have been prevented if the international community simply opened its ears, digested the signs and took action to ensure that the hostility came to an end. Instead, the world did nothing and nearly 1 million people were killed within three months.

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Courtesy of Dau JokReality quite often stares you right in the face here.
The message that hit me the hardest from the memorial was the reality that in every situation, we as people have choices to make. In the Rwandan Genocide, some people decided to step up in the face of danger and save the persecuted. They made the choice to stand up and not stand idly by. These heroes elected to save life instead of choosing to perpetuate death and for that they must be remembered, commemorated and learned from. As humans we must recognize that we have the option to stop corruption. With this recognition, we must take action. We have the ability to take the necessary steps to ensure that peace is maintained or restored. When these situations present themselves, our ears must not be deaf. Or, as history tells us, human disaster will strike.

Thanks you all for reading and for all the well-wishes.

Peace and love from Africa,
Dau and Zack

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