The New Times (Kigali)

27 June 2011

Rwanda: Engagement, Commitment, Loyalty, and Passion of Youth

opinion

There is something powerful about being inspired. It is almost like I am born into a new world, like the possibilities and opportunities all of a sudden become endless. It is almost like I have been given wings to fly.

As great as this may seem, it so rarely happens. Very few people can set our souls on fire, ignite our ambition, and encourage us to be better and do better.

That is why when you find your source of inspiration, you must learn from it, take those lessons and apply them in your everyday life, so that you too, can serve as an inspiration to others.

This piece of writing is a result of inspiration. It is drawn from the lessons I have learned from some of my living heroes and she-roes, as well as those who are no longer with us. It is drawn from my recent realization and understanding of my position and responsibility as a young Rwandan woman and a citizen of the world. Most specifically, it is a result of the inspiration drawn from Mrs. Obama's speech at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, South Africa, just yesterday.

First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, last week gave a powerful, moving and extremely passionate speech at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. She gave her speech while standing on the historically unforgettable grounds of Regina Mundi Church, and ironically she made history on that very same ground. I have no doubt that she touched the hearts of many of the young girls sitting in the crowd, many of the women gathered there and those that were listening and watching from across the world. At least I can say for sure that she touched mine.

As a young woman in the 21st century, sometimes my understanding of the seriousness and urgency of today's issues can sometimes be shallow and inadequate. In this day and age, there are so many distractions from the reality of life that blind us from our primary responsibilities as citizens of the world and particularly as Rwandans. My ability to make a difference, however small or large, and the possibilities and opportunities available for me to do so can often go unrecognized and occasionally maybe even ignored.

It takes words like those spoken yesterday by Mrs. Obama, it takes exemplary leadership such as that of President Paul Kagame, and it takes the passion and dedication that we see in his kind of leadership, to remind us that change is possible, and that the need for a more committed youth is greater than it ever was. It is the inspiration from such great women and men who have defied the odds and stayed true to their values, committed to their people and nations, and devoted to the upholding of good

, that I have found to be my source of encouragement and my drive to be better and do better.

As I listened to her speak, I could not help but feel immense pride for my continent and just proud of how far we have come as a people, despite our evil and inexcusable past. Most importantly however, it got me thinking about myself as part of the youth today, and the serious responsibility that we have, to ensure that the sweat, blood and tears that our leaders, our parents and our grandparents have shed to get us to where we are today, was not in vain.

It was incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of young people like Hector Pierterson, who died at such a young age, for a cause they so deeply believed in. Young adults who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of their people, who fought for good, and who lost their lives in a fight for their country, for their people and most importantly who died fighting for what is right and just. Now, that is commitment. That is passion. That is loyalty. That is devotion, and that is love. As the youth today, these are the qualities we must emulate.

In her speech she asked, "What will you make of this inheritance? What will define your generation?" Complicated questions asked so simply. What will we make of our inheritance? This got me thinking of my own country, Rwanda.

It is almost mindboggling that a country that suffered the loss of over one million people, 17 years ago, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, that lasted 100 days, is the same country that is at the forefront of economic development, political stability, gender equality and empowerment, unity and reconciliation. We are no longer the victims, we are victors. So as young Rwandans, what are we going to make of this inheritance? How are we going to carry forward this legacy? What principles and values will characterize our generation?

After Mrs. Obama finished her speech, four words resonated in my mind. Words that I think have the power to make a world of difference in our country, in our minds, in our hearts, and in our world. Words and concepts that I think should be a priority for every young adult today and that I believe are the answers to the questions above: Engagement, Commitment, Loyalty, and Passion.

As the youth, there is a pressing need for us to be more engaged in our communities, more engaged in the politics and policies of our nations, and more engaged with the world at large. We need to allow ourselves to go beyond the normality and monotony of our lives, and educate ourselves more.

We are blessed to have a wealth of information and wisdom at our disposal. We need to use these blessings effectively. We need to read more, understand more, travel more, discuss more, listen more, and think more. This is the best way to be engaged with our world. Anthony J. D'Angelo, founder of Collegiate Empowerment, said "Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you'll never cease to grow."

Secondly, there is an equally pressing need for us to not only be engaged, but to be committed. We must be committed to our lives and to our values, be committed to continuing the exemplary work that has been done by our leaders, be committed to seeing Rwanda prosper despite all odds, be committed to accepting nothing less than we are capable of achieving, and instead expecting more.

We must be committed to whatever we chose to pursue, and we must wisely choose the path that carries the interest of our community at large. We cannot be comfortable with our own successes. We must rise as one, and not rise alone. The interest of our families, of our nations and of ourselves must be carry similar weight, because it is impossible to succeed in an unsuccessful environment. Therefore, we must learn to be selflessly committed to our causes. We cannot settle for less than we are capable of.

Thirdly, we have to be loyal to our cause. As is with life in general, the journey and the fight will not be a bed of roses. There will be hindrances, there will be resistance, there will be distraction, and there will be conflict. Despite this all, we must stay loyal. We must stick to our vision and stick to our values and our dignity.

Agaciro kacu. We have to define ourselves for ourselves. One of the most influential writers and poets, Audre Lorde, once said, "It is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others - for their use and to our detriment." We must define ourselves for ourselves and we must be the architects of our nations and our future.

Lastly, we need passion. Without a deep passion for our lives, for our causes, and for our nations there can be no sustainable development and none of the principles mentioned above can be effective. We need to be passionate patriots; passionate about our causes, about our country, our development and our prosperity as a people. German Poet Hebbel could not have said it better, "Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion."

I know as youth, sometimes we feel helpless and/or clueless on how to make a difference, on how to contribute to the development of our country or simply on how and where to begin. However, not all of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Conditions may be way favorable and easier for us today, in comparison to the previous generations, but the causes and the issues at hand are just as severe and in many cases, are even more serious. So, let's get moving!

As our president said on Rwanda day in Chicago, let us be a catalyst for what should happen elsewhere in the continent. Let us continue to be the trend setters that we already are!

Let me end with yet some more powerful words spoken by our President Paul Kagame at Rwanda Day in Chicago this month: "There is momentum in Rwanda, a mindset, an attitude and a culture that have remerged, and this is a moment we cannot afford to waste."

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