The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Fundraising for Peace

A project to construct a peace-building centre under the Kigali Genocide Memorial received a major boost, Sunday night, when local business men and women in close partnership with Friends of Rwanda raised more than $100,000.

The Center will offer anti-Genocide education programs with an initial target of two million young Rwandans.

The money was raised in both cash and pledges during a White Rose Gala Dinner organised by Aegis Trust, which manages the Kigali Memorial Centre.

Speaking at the event, the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs Jeannette Kagame, commended Aegis Trust's initiative of expanding Kigali Memorial, stressing the need to educate young Rwandans as a way of building a safer and brighter future.

"We have today young survivors who have overcome extra-ordinary suffering and are working everyday to make their lives and their communities and their country better. We also have the first generation of adults born after the Genocide - those who turned 18 this year. These young people constitute 80 per cent of the Rwandan population," Mrs Kagame said.

"It is therefore critical that the youth today learn from, and embody the spirit of legacy, left by the children of Nyange who refused to be separated by those who believed in a divided Rwanda and before that the young people of the White Rose Society in Germany who opposed the forces of genocide in Europe. This is the surest way to be in a safer and brighter future," she said.

Aegis Trust developed the idea of setting up the US$3 million complex as an inspiration from the White Rose movement, a student resistance group in Germany, which became known for an anonymous leaflet campaign that called for active opposition against the genocidal Nazi regime.

Nyange students that the First Lady referred to are remembered as Rwandan heroes for refusing to separate themselves along ethnic line during one of the bloodiest attacks in 1997 - 3 years after the Genocide.

In the last four years, the Kigali Memorial centre has offered educational programmes to over 11,000 Rwandan students, inspiring them to uphold the values of unity within their schools and their communities.

"This programme deserves to reach more people. I was very pleased to learn that, within the next five years, Kigali memorial centre will expand to become an African centre for genocide research and peace building. This centre will provide a conducive platform for youth across the globe to learn about the underlying causes of conflicts and ways in which such conflicts can be prevented in the future," the First Lady observed.

She added that, to attain this ambitious vision, everybody must help nurture the youth into responsible leaders of the future.

The Chairman of Aegis White Rose Society, Robert Bayigamba, a local businessman who inspired Aegis Trust to extend its operations in Rwanda, said that the Kigali memorial centre has since its establishment in 2004, grown to become a remarkable place, beyond what anyone ever expected.

He recognised individuals and organisations that have extended financial support to the memorial centre.

"In order to strengthen and structure this support, Aegis has created a Rwanda chapter of the White Rose Society," he said.

Bayigamba announced that the First Lady is a life time member of the White Rose Society-Rwanda Chapter.

"Having seen all that Aegis trust has achieved so far, I have great hope in this initiative. I have witnessed how Aegis Trust has partnered with the government of Rwanda and transformed attitudes among our young people," he said.

The CEO of Aegis Trust, Dr James Smith, pointed out that the Kigali Memorial centre has become a fitting memorial to the people who lost their lives in the Genocide against the Tutsi.

"In their spirit, the memorial centre also needs to be more than just a monument and a museum if it is to ever change the attitude that led to this human catastrophe," Smith said.

He noted that, five years ago, the Rwandan parliament demonstrated a problem of genocide ideology in schools and the report authors urged those working at the Kigali Memorial to address the issue.

"In the past four years, the Aegis Trust education and peace-building work has taught over 11,000 students about the errors of the past and developing the kind of thinking that would ensure that it should never be repeated again.

Aegis' peace-building programme helps young people to learn about the dangers of prejudice, and building trust between the children of survivors and perpetrators of the Genocide.

Recent independent analysis has found that not only is the programme changing attitudes and behaviour among the students taking part, but also among the school communities from which they come - including fellow students who didn't attend.

Aegis Trust is planning to extend the same campaign to US and UK to raise funds for the construction of the peace centre.

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