A lot of friends of mine who know about my involvement with iDebate used to ask me-and this since 2014- what the US Tour is about. My usual response was: It’s just a team of five or six that tours American universities talking about Rwanda and its post-genocide recovery, and how genocide has affected the youth, and how iDebate comes to be in the picture. Well, many of you will agree with me that this is a very shallow answer (due mainly to the fact that until recently that’s all I myself knew about the tour). Most of the times, other questions followed: why? why you guys? do you think we’re really that better off to go offering lessons?… And these questions left me tongue tied and unable to answer them. Since the selection though, I have had time to reflect on these questions and came up with a personal view on every one of them, which i’ll now try to convey as honestly as i can.
Well, Rwanda is a country that’s pretty much a paradox. We were suddenly projected to stardom and became famous-or should I say infamous-in 1994 when, in the space of 3 months, TV sets all over the world were full of gruesome images of mutilated, decapitated, charred, or drowned bodies of men, women and children. In the 22 years that have followed, people’s views on Rwanda (those who know Rwanda anyway) have polarized on two extremes: Either we are still the little central African nation plagued by the aftermath of the worst tragedy of the 20th century (add famine and poverty to the picture), or we are the little central African nation that has become an indescribable wonder in every possible field, be it education, health, security, development, technology….
But the thing is, none of this really says anything about who we are as a people. And that is what the tour is about. It answers questions like: How do a people so divided, learn to interact again? How is one able to live not 10 meters from the guy that butchered their entire family? To what extent does the will to live again go? And most importantly, how are the youth that were born after the genocide affected by a past they did not help to create? Through trying as best as we can to answer these questions, we hope to touch the lives of people with, not quite the same experiences, but who will nonetheless be impacted by the encounter with our team.
2. Why us, Why iDebate?
This one is pretty easy. We took the step. Some have come before us, on a smaller scale, and we definitely hope to inspire many more to follow our example. We are not the only ones with stories to share, and ours are definitely not the best ones or the most important. We just believe that they can make a difference, and if more come up with the same idea, then it’s all for the best.
3. Are we really that better off to go offering lessons?
First of all, I don’t think we offer lessons. I view it more as sharing the most about ourselves and learning from each other. And no, we’re not better off. Just as our audience isn’t better off. We sometimes hear things on both sides that shake us pretty much. Like when we hear of a black army veteran being left to die in a jail cell slowly of dehydration and hunger, and with a spinal injury, over a simple misdemeanor infraction. Or when we listen to a radio report of an elderly genocide widow who was killed and dumped near her home during commemoration week. No, our world isn’t perfect, and it is not likely to be. Does that mean we stop trying? Does that mean we shouldn’t show people that there is something beautiful that is growing amidst that whole mess, and it will continue growing if enough people put their hearts to it? Of course not. So that is the answer to the question: We are not better off, but what we have is enough to be shared with the world.
Please remember this post reflects my own views about the tour. They won’t necessarily be the ones my teammates have, so feel free to continue reading what they too have to say. To all the institutions that have already agreed to host us, we are deeply grateful, and we look forward to having a fruitful journey with you.
I promise you, the enthusiasm has not faded.