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Rwandan community of Maine hosts national remembrance ceremony, 30 years after genocide

Mathile Mukantabana, Rwanda's ambassador the U.S., speaks at the genocide remembrance event at the South Portland High School auditorium.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
Mathile Mukantabana, Rwanda's ambassador the U.S., speaks at the genocide remembrance event at the South Portland High School auditorium.

The Rwandan community of Maine this weekend welcomed hundreds of visitors to South Portland to mark the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The multiday event honored survivors and took stock of the country's reconciliation efforts.

Attendees arrived from all over the country and the world to join Maine's Rwandan community for the annual commemoration event, or Kwibuka, which means "to remember." The event is hosted in a different state each year, in coordination with the local Rwandan community.

Marc Gwamaka flew in from Rwanda, where he works at the genocide memorial in the capital city.

He said holding this event in Maine is important not just for the Rwandan community, but for all Mainers to better understand what their immigrant neighbors have lived through.

"These same people have been able to stand unite, rebuild, and they are coming in with a lot of resilience with them, but also contributing to the community within which you live," Gwamaka said.

Event coordinators estimate there are between 150 and 200 genocide survivors living in Maine.

Many speakers emphasized the need to preserve and transmit the stories of survivors so their suffering is not forgotten.

The remembrance event drew hundreds of attendees from across the country and the world.
Ari Snider
/
Maine Public
The remembrance event drew hundreds of attendees from across the country and the world.

The genocide erupted after the collapse of a peace process to end the country's civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people from the Tutsi ethnic group were killed over a period of roughly 100 days in 1994.

Rwanda's ambassador to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, hailed her country's arduous efforts to mend its social fabric after the genocide ripped it apart.

"We chose to remain together, to be accountable to each other, but more importantly, to think, to imagine, and to create a country we have never seen before," she said.

After the failure of the international community to stop the atrocities, she says, it was up to Rwandans to rebuild their country at a time when many observers viewed it as a failed state.