In what has become an annual tradition, hundreds of genocide orphans will board buses travelling hundreds of kilometers to revisit the plight they lived through with their families as thousands of militias wielding crude weapons roamed villagers across Rwanda 23 years ago.
The orphans under their umbrella associations will spend every Saturday of March at selected sites in different districts. The trips take place towards the beginning of the genocide commemoration in April.
The orphans have been doing such trips since 2015. They are all part of the associations of current and former student survivors of the genocide or AERG/GAERG.
In a statement Wednesday, they said the upcoming tours for 2017 will be no different. The have identified vulnerable genocide widows for whom various forms of support will be provided.
Individuals whose heroic acts saved Tutsis who were being hunted by genocide militias, will also be recognised.
Previously, the orphans delivered cows, a powerful gesture in Rwandan culture.
For the widows, the orphans will build new houses and renovate other existing structures. A cow or set of goats is often on the materials provided.
They have scheduled construction of 11 new houses, rehabilitate 15 others and offer 11 cows – that are often friesian breed. They also plan to work with local communities to set up 135 kitchen gardens, that provide greens.
During the trips, the orphans do communal cleaning at genocide memorial sites in those particular locations. It is followed by paying respects to the victims at the site with moment of silence and new wreaths laid.
Over the past two years, the orphans have toured 65 memorial sites, provided 17 new houses and renovated 12 others. Some 217 kitchen gardens were set up for homes which did not have them.
The orphans also have paved a total of 13km of feeder roads in the communities they visited. Two dozen cows were offered.
The AERG/GAERG week – as the campaign is called, is “our way of giving back to community,” said the orphans in the statement announcing the 2017 edition.
This Saturday, they will travel to Nyaruguru district, southern Rwanda bordering Burundi. Tens of thousands of Burundian refugees were in Rwanda when the genocide started. Their presence provided more machinery for the killing machine.
In southern Rwanda, the genocide was launched with a speech by leader of interim government president Theodore Sindikubwabo. The address called on ethnic extremists to “work”, a coded reference to hunting and killing Tutsis.
For the following weekend March 11, the orphans will be in Kicukiro district, in the capital Kigali. It is location of a technical college where UN troops abandoned thousands of Tutsis for dead.
As for March 18, the orphans will be in Ruhango district where Burundian refugees also joined Rwandans to hunt for Tutsis. The area witnessed some of the most gruesome massacres.
The following weekend March 25, the usually long column of buses will descend on the western Rwanda border town of Rubavu – formerly Gisenyi. It is where the militias intensified the massacres as they retreated with the government army into Zaire, now DR Congo. French forces in the area opened corridors for them, according to documented accounts.
The last trip, as is the routine, the orphans end at their farmland in eastern Rwanda, as the country prepares for start of the three-month commemoration. It marks the period the interahamwe rampaged on villages, protected by government troops and French commandos.
By July 1994, more than 1m victims had been killed. Their names are inscribed on plaques at memorial sites spread across Rwanda.
UPDATE: DATES CHANGED
The dates were changed by the organisers and these are the new trip days
Nyaruguru District: March 11
Rubavu district: March 18
Kicukiro District: March 25
Nyagatare District: April 1