Twenty eight years on from the genocide that shocked the world, Rwanda could make a name for itself in the sporting world by claiming its first Commonwealth Games medal this summer in Birmingham. And a Rwandan living in Wednesbury believes a medal could put the country on the map for something other than its painful history.
Agnes Nahayo is the co-founder of the Birmingham Rwandan Women Association, an organisation promoting the interests of Rwandan women across the West Midlands. Dealing with domestic violence and mental health issues are among some of the key areas that the organisation focuses on.
Agnes and her family left Rwanda in 1999, five years after the genocide which claimed over half a million lives. Speaking about the infamous massacre, Agnes emotionally talked about how Rwanda was never the same and how she is still affected to this day.
“Everything was not good. We were still traumatised,” she said. “It takes a while. Even though I’m not in Rwanda, but wherever, we have flashbacks.
“We used to see people that used to hurt us, that used to come to traumatise us. That’s the kind of life you live, we lived. Late last night I don’t know what happened. That was what my dream was about.
“I dreamt about people running after me, killing me. And it’s 28 years ago and where I am, I’m safe.
“Everyone that has been through what we went through will always have that in their mind. I think until we die.”
Rwanda are scheduled to compete in beach volleyball and cycling at the Games – but the country has yet to win a medal at the multi-sport event. Agnes hopes that any Rwandan success at the Games can help facilitate positivity in the country after the Rwandan genocide.
“Most of us are very excited and we think this can make Rwandese people known a little bit. For example, when my colleagues at work asked me 10 years ago where I was from, all they know about Rwanda is genocide.
“No one else knows. There is not much to talk about Rwanda other than genocide.
“If we get one medal, god help us, it will put us on the map, and people will know us. We will then know Rwanda as a good country in the Commonwealth Games, not just as a country known for genocide.”
Every year, with the exception of Covid, the group meets in April to commemorate loved ones lost due to the Rwandan genocide. Set up in 2007, Agnes took time to praise The National Lottery for their work after they funded the organisation with £10,000.
Aside from helping Rwandese women, the group also interacts with local children. Teaching the Rwandese language Kinyarwanda, dances and history to children is a way that the organisation is able to keep their culture.
“When we started, we had the thought of a group where there are women supporting each other to accommodate the new Rwandese women that have arrived in the West Midlands. So we’ve been kind of a big family,” she said.
“When most Rwandans get to the West Midlands, they struggle to communicate, they are speaking mostly French. So most get comfortable talking to their fellow people. It’s not only me. We’ve got a big group of people.
“A big group of ladies that helped me that I work with to meet up with other African women from all over the region. We mix up with other African women, mostly from East Africa, because we have lots of things in common.”
Source: Robson McCallister