For many Centre College students, the 1994 Rwandan genocide is something they have only read about in textbooks or seen in movies; this month, however, students will get up close and personal with history, thanks to a benefit concert coming to campus on April 25, proceeds of which will support the widows and orphans left behind after 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 1994.
The concert, titled twenty aprils, is the result of a partnership with Good News International, a non-profit grassroots organization that supports widows and orphans of the Rwandan genocide through educational sponsorship, housing, income-generating projects and counseling services. The benefit concert commemorates the 20-year anniversary of the genocide.
“Twenty aprils builds upon the momentum of this past CentreTerm in Uganda and Rwanda (video),” Assistant Professor of History Jonathan Earle explains. “In Rwanda, students spent time with the communities of Good News International and explored the history of the 1994 genocide at massacre sites; they also listened to survivors’ stories and worked alongside survivors on income generating projects, including tilling fields.
“It was a very moving experience for our students,” he continues. “When they returned from Uganda, they decided to do something to help the amazing work of Good News International. The idea was first brought to my attention by Megan Foley ’14 and Emily Rodes ’16, who have spent significant time getting the benefit event off the ground. I’ve been doing anything I can to support them.”
Foley was inspired by her younger brother who organized a similar type of concert in Louisville, Ky.; she decided to use the same idea on Centre’s campus to raise money for the victims of the genocide she met while studying abroad during CentreTerm.
“I decided to do this because of the impact the people in Rwanda had on me while I was there,” she explains. “We stayed at a survivor’s guesthouse, worked in the fields alongside community members and attended a church service; they shared their stories of survival with us, gave us lunch and ate with us, danced with us and talked about their daily struggles since the genocide.
“I knew I had to do something to help them,” she continues. “The international community ignored their cries for help in 1994, and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I wanted to do all I could to restore their faith in the rest of the world.”
Foley was particularly touched by the survivors’ willingness to share their life stories, even though it meant reliving the horrors of the genocide and, for some, sharing how they became HIV positive.
“I realized that just a small portion of the extensive monetary resources we have in the United States could help them so much,” Foley says.
Emily Rodes ’16 had an equally powerful CentreTerm experience.
“We toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a government-sponsored memorial site that tells the narrative of genocide,” she says. “Afterwards, we toured several churches and schools where genocide took place. The sites we toured held thousands of clothes, weapons and skulls—remnants of genocide from 20 years ago.”
Ben Kayumba, the class’ guide in Rwanda and the director of Good News International, lost all 150 of his family members as well as his fiancée during the 1994 genocide.
“Ben saw his survival as a message from God,” Rodes explains. “He believes that because he survived, it is now his duty to share the story of the genocide and help others that survived.
“Staying with and learning from such amazing, resilient people changed all of our lives forever,” Rodes says. “It opened our eyes to a new level of grief, alongside a new level of hope and a new level of life. For Megan and me, twenty aprils is only some small way we can give back to those who changed our lives forever.”
Between concert ticket sales and individual gifts, the campus project aims to raise $10,000 by the April 25 concert date. Tickets can be purchased in the Campus Center daily.
Both Rodes and Foley are extremely passionate about Centre’s involvement in this project.
“One of the major themes that appears in narratives of the genocide is the lack of foreign intervention and aid, particularly from America, one of the strongest nations in the world,” Rodes explains. “With this concert at Centre, we can show Rwandans that the world is changing. Our generation is changing. We are global citizens and we’re here for a reason: to help one another.
“Centre students are always looking for ways to give back to the community,” she continues. “This is a way for us to give back to the global community.”
Foley echoes Rodes’ sentiments, urging her fellow students to take part.
“Our CentreTerm class has seen firsthand the difference we can make, and I want the student body to be able to experience this as well,” she says. “It’s one night of fun for students that could change the lives of people in Rwanda forever.”
The twenty aprils concert, featuring DJ Auzey, will be held on Friday, April 25 at the end of West Walnut Street, from 9 p.m. to midnight. Tickets can be purchased daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Campus Center for $10 per person through April 14, $12 per person through April 24. T-shirts are $15 each. Learn more and donate at the twenty aprils website and Facebook page.
Article by Mariel Smith
Video by John Rusnak