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April marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, in which upwards of 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, leaving 95,000 children orphaned. The massacre wiped out 75 percent of the Tutsi ethnic group. Now three young men affected by the violence have turned to photography to document their country’s resilience. Special correspondent Beth Murphy of the Groundtruth Project reports.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Upwards of 800,000 people were killed in just over three months; 95,000 children were orphaned; 75 percent of ethnic Tutsis were wiped out by extremists from the Hutu ethnic group.
Now three young men impacted by the violence have turned to photography, showing the resilience of the country.
Special correspondent Beth Murphy of the GroundTruth Project reports from Rwanda.
Twenty-five years after being orphaned by the genocide, Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana are trekking through Rwanda with the one possession that matters now to them most, their cameras.
I'm taking pictures of these clothes. Women who were killed and babies who were killed, sometimes, people would come, and if they recognized the cloth, they would know this is their baby.
They're taking pictures here at one of the nearly 250 memorials that dot the country and asking questions, trying to understand the unimaginable horror that left nearly one million people dead, including their parents.
In April 1994, extremists from the dominant Hutu ethnic group began a 100-day killing spree to rid the country of minority Tutsis. The United Nations had peacekeeping troops on the ground, but inaction by the international community allowed the slaughter to continue.
When I think about the people who killed my parents, I think of how they destroyed the relationships I would have had with my parents.
Your photography can help you tell your story to other people. and then they can learn about you. That can be a medicine. That can heal someone.
This genocide memorial in Western Rwanda is the one closest to the orphanage where they were raised. Many of the people buried here were killed in the months before the official start of the genocide, when Hutu extremists were practicing how to kill on a massive scale.
How many bodies are here?
The killers of these 9,000 people are well-known in this community. One of them is Gasenge. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail, but released after 15, because he led authorities to thousands of bodies, and he agreed to seek forgiveness from his victims' families.
I'm — like, I'm scared, because you're the people who probably killed my parents, you guys. Yes, you perpetrators, you killed my parents. And I'm sad to hear that you were enjoying killing.
Gasenge (through translator):
We had nail-studded clubs called no mercy. Others had machetes.
Man (through translator):
When you attacked them, what did your victims do?
Gasenge (through translator):
They were crying, begging, "Please have mercy."
Bizimana Jean (through translator):
We lost our parent's love. We lost their affection. As someone who lived through this, I wanted to know the people who committed genocide, how? Why did they do it?
This question, why, why would anyone kill unarmed men, women and children, there can never be a satisfactory answer to this question.
But the perpetrators have a consistent one. As Abdullah tells them, government-sanctioned teachings demonized and dehumanized Tutsis, inspiring a nationwide machine of death to hate and kill.
Abdullah (through translator):
School lessons taught us, Tutsis are evil. They even gave them many nasty names.
Abdullah (through translator):
They were called cockroaches, snakes.
The example you gave, calling them cockroaches and snakes, they were your neighbors. You knew that they were good people. You knew that they were not snakes. What were you told in class and in government teachings that made you change and believe that was true?
What made me change is, they said Tutsis are invading the country to kill Hutus.
So, even though I had seen them as human beings, after hearing that, Tutsis are evil snakes, that became instilled in my blood. I decided that, instead of being killed by a Tutsi, I would rather kill.
As Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana travel from village to village, they're stunned to learn that every perpetrator they meet knew the woman Roz Carr. She's the one who became their mother.
At the time of the genocide, Roz had been living in Rwanda over 40 years longer than any other foreigner. She was running a flower farm, and helped families in the community by donating medicine and clothing.
Gasenge even met Roz at the start of the genocide, demanding that she hand over Tutsis she was hiding in her home. She never did, and then was forced to evacuate.
I thought the genocide would be stopped immediately by the U.N. troops, which, of course, could've stopped it in a week, saved so many lives. Heartbreaking.
When Roz returned to Rwanda, she started the Imbabazi Orphanage at the age of 82 to care for children whose parents were killed in the genocide. This is where Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana became brothers and photographers, thanks to years of training by the photo project Through the Eyes of Children.
In the year 2000, my children, we had a visit from an American from Connecticut. His name was David Jiranek. He said he had the idea of teaching the orphans photography.
This premiere exhibit is the first exhibit of the children's work. And we thought it was important to show everyone in Rwanda just what our children are capable of when they're given an opportunity.
The last thing I thought would change their lives was photography. But it has.
When I learned photography, that's when I was able to express myself. I realized that I matter.
It's a realization they want other children to experience.
To make that happen, Gadi, Mussa and Bizimana have gone from being students of Through the Eyes of Children to becoming its teachers. Photo workshops they're running around the world are designed to help other children who've suffered from trauma and loss, kids like 12-year-old Adrian, who's in foster care in Boston.
This is awesome.
You like it?
In Rwanda, the teaching they're doing is giving even more children the ability to document and tell their own story and Rwanda's, something they have been doing for nearly 20 years.
And when they look through the lens, they see a humanity that was lost, now found, especially in the next generation, their generation.
It was hard to believe, until I met this couple. One is a son of a perpetrator and the other one is a survivor. From killing each other, forgiving each other, reuniting with each other, living with each other, and now marrying, it's a sign of how far things have come.
I'm Beth Murphy in Gisenyi, Rwanda.
So important to see.
And Beth Murphy's story is the subject of a forthcoming documentary called "Camera Kids."
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