In the US, July 4th calls to mind festive scenes of barbecues, fireworks, and the flag waving proudly in a warm summer breeze. But for the people of Rwanda, Liberation Day is as marked by triumph as it is by brutality.
On July 4th, 1994—after 100 days of horrific violence resulting in over a million casualties—the Rwandan Patriotic Front overcame the genocidal regime against the nation’s Tutsi population. Paul Kagame, leader of the RFP and future president of Rwanda, defeated the Hutu militants through strategic, controlled artillery attacks seeking to minimize further civilian casualties. Kagame’s army reclaimed Kigali and instituted an interim government of national unity, a turning point now recognized as Rwanda’s Liberation Day.
Every July 4th, Rwandan citizens commemorate the significance of this day with speeches, receptions, remembrance ceremonies, sporting events, concerts, and parades. One of the largest annual events is held at Kigali’s Amahoro Stadium, acknowledged as a protected site by the UN for serving as a sanctuary for refugees in need of shelter during the genocide.
22 years later, Rwanda continues to rebuild. The UN estimates that a quarter million women were raped during this atrocity; of these women, approximately 70% contracted HIV or AIDS. Restoring the nation and healing its communities begins with caring for these survivors.
“I would like to thank Same Sky for their support and for bringing all women together. It’s good when we work together rather than working as individuals… it has improved our well-being.”
– Mukayiranga, Same Sky artisan and genocide survivor
Women like Mukayiranga have the tools to rebuild their lives and their communities in the promise of steady employment. The independence an artisan feels when she supports herself and her family gives her the empowerment to be a caretaker, leader, a teacher, a beacon of hope.
The meaning and merit of Liberation Day is lived each day through these artisans, women whose perseverance, will, and creativity have granted them the freedom of self-sufficiency. The transformation of Same Sky’s artisans—and, in turn, their families and communities—is helping rewrite a nation’s legacy.
“My goal is… to educate someone and pass on the message so when I grow old, younger people will also carry it on.”
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