By Germain Mucyo

Over 800 people gathered in South Portland for Kwibuka30, the 30th annual remembrance of the1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The three-day event, held May 24-26, featured opportunities to connect with others from around the U.S. and Canada, moving testimony, and discussions reflecting on the experiences of survivors and their descendents over the past 30 years. Attendees included survivors, scholars, mental health professionals, officials, and friends of Rwanda.

The aim of Kwibuka, which means “to remember” in Kinyarwanda, is to heal, educate, and raise awareness about the genocide, as well as to raise funds to support needy survivors.

Highlights included a memorial walk, survivor testimonies, panel discussions, and keynote speeches that addressed memory preservation, healing, and education. A key component was the survivors’ reunion, the second of its kind, offering a safe space for survivors to discuss relevant issues and report on the activities of Ibuka USA, which is a branch of Ibuka-Rwanda.

South Portland’s Mayor Misha C. Pride expressed gratitude to attendees for uplifting the Rwandan community, and reflected on the 30th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. He emphasized the harsh truth that the world’s inaction during the genocide remains “a painful and disturbing reality.”

“To the Rwandan immigrants and refugees who now call South Portland their home … Maine is fortunate to have your resilience and rich culture as part of the fabrication of Maine’s community,” Pride said.

Yehoyada Mbangukira, President of the United States Rwandan Community Abroad and Vice President of the Alliance for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Sonoma State University, emphasized the importance of working with schools to archive genocide stories. He stressed that memory preservation is an obligation, stating that “preserving memory honors those who perished and survivors.”

Jason Nshimiye, President of Ibuka USA, spoke about the immense difficulty of confronting the horrifying stories of genocide: “It’s tough to hear about children being murdered simply because they were born to a tall parent–a trait that defined their tribe. Genocide is about loss–of people, infrastructure, and a country’s future,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see hate ideology and ethnic violence occurring globally, leading to the loss of innocent lives. I’m not a politician, but the murderers who fled to countries like DR Congo after killing our families are now spreading hate again, and support the killings of Congolese Tutsi,” said Nshimiye.

Sarah Brown, Director of the American Jewish Committee in San Diego, discussed advocacy ,education, and accountability mechanisms to counter denial. “We must listen, bear witness, and share memories to ensure we never forget the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” said Brown.

When I first visited Rwanda in 2004 during the Kwibuka period,” Brown continued, “it was a moving experience. The courage and resilience of Rwandan society stay with me, especially as we commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) each year.”

Brown, who is raising a fourth-generation Holocaust descendant, gave a moving example of the importance of remembrance. “Several years ago, I interviewed a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor who agreed to share his story,” she said. “I was honored that he wanted to share his experience, but when I asked, ‘Why now?’ he didn’t hesitate. He explained that while he hadn’t previously feared another genocide, recent events had made him worry that the world never learns from past mistakes and that genocides would continue to occur.

”Telling his story wasn’t easy for him, said Brown. “When I asked what message he wanted to convey to the next generation, he emphasized the importance of education. To him, education is the antidote to ignorance and a means to prevent his fears from becoming reality. With today’s widespread campaigns of hate, disinformation, genocide denial, and distortion, all amplified by social media, the need for meaningful, impactful education about modern genocides is more pressing than ever.”

Brown further emphasized the necessity of effective educational approaches to combat denial and hatred. “We need educational methods that bridge the gap between historical events and the experiences of young learners in classrooms today, who will be the future leaders. From Rwanda to Israel, this is crucial to help make sense of what’s happening in real time and prevent history from repeating itself.

”In her remarks, the Ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, Mathilde Mukantabana, addressed the failure of institutions, lack of solidarity, and international inaction during the genocide: “Over 1 million people were killed, and they were just like you and me–a son, daughter, father, or mother. This destroyed our society as our institutions failed us, be it the church or the state; there was nothing left. In terms of solidarity, the international community remained silent and failed us. Rwandans had lost hope, but as our progress shows, the path forward would be bright.” Mukantabana said.

“There was no template for how to rebuild,” she said. “We created homegrown solutions based primarily on unity to bring people back together and restore the human concepts of forgiveness and justice. It wasn’t easy for survivors; we have entire families who were wiped out. It’s our role to remember them and rebuild Rwanda beyond what anyone could have imagined.”

Mukantabana extended an invitation to the international community to join an upcoming conference, scheduled for November, on Genocide and the Holocaust.