Over 20 guests filled our Center last Wednesday as the MCHGRC welcomed Eugenie Mukeshimana, founder of Genocide Survivors Support Network, to speak about surviving the Rwandan genocide.
Before the genocide, Rwanda was a beautiful country and Eugenie's was what Americans would most likely term an "average, middle class" lifestyle. The dark underbelly of racism, however, took hold during her young adult years. Despite generations of intermarriage with the Hutu population, Tutsis became defined in aesthetic terms similar to those used to stereotype Jews in Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust: large noses and horns. In fact, the similarities between Eugenie's experiences and those of Holocaust survivors is a lesson in itself: Prejudicial language and attitudes had come and gone in waves in the past; Tutsi parents instructed their children to keep their heads down until attitudes changed. However, this time, the stereotyping became so commonplace in Rwanda that when it came time for the killing to begin, the majority of Hutus that had been friends and neighbors for years did nothing to stop the madness. In fact, many participated in the killings, while still more turned their backs to the horror.
While Eugenie highlighted the failures of the United Nations in responding to the Rwandan crisis that Dallaire wrote about in Shake Hands with the Devil, her feelings of abandonment were not solely the cause of other nations. For Eugenie, one of the greatest disappointments that remain is that the church did nothing to forewarn the Tutsis of the impending crisis. Mission organizations were pulling their representatives out of the country while many church leaders said nothing about the growing threats. "We had passports," Eugenie said, "if we had felt there was any real threat, my family and I would have left. But they said nothing."
What is the one lesson Eugenie wants everyone to take away from her autobiography? "Do not be a bystander." We must realize that we are all links in a chain and what is done to one person will inevitably affect us all.
To learn more about Eugenie and how you can support genocide survivors living in America, visit www.genocidesurvivorssupportnetwork.org.