Sally Magnusson interviews Youth Leaders on Rwanda

about 1 month ago
BBC Scotland's Sally Magnusson interviewed Gigha Lennox, Junaid Ashraf and Mirella Yandoli who took part in an Interfaith visit to Rwanda. The Sunday with ...

English subtitle

With so many current scenes of distress
in the world the ones that shocked us to
the core many years ago are all too easy
to forget in 1994.
800,000 Rwandans were killed and a
tribal genocide that lasted less than a
hundred days. A group of young Scots is
just back from Rwanda and I imagine
it'll be a long time before they forget
what they've seen and heard. There are five
Christians and five Muslims and they
went to Rwanda to see how interfaith
peace and reconciliation efforts there
are working out The peace building
across borders programme was created by
the Church of Scotland and Interfaith
Scotland. Joining us are two of the
young people who traveled there Gigha
Lennox a youth worker for the Church of
Scotland in Edinburgh and Junaid Ashraf
a Muslim student who's also Cumbernauld's youngest councillor. Also joining
us is Mirella Yandoli the Church of
Scotland's interfaith officer. Welcome to
you all
Mirella you organised the visit, and you went
out there with the group what was the
purpose of it and why Rwanda. Hi there
Well on my first day in the office which
is about a year ago, the Africa secretary and
I had a conversation about what we might
learn from our international partners as
a world church and it immediately struck me
as an opportunity to learn something
very tangible from one of our partners
called PROCMURA which is the program
for Muslim and Christian relations in
Africa. I thought this would be a
really good opportunity to bring
five Muslims and five Christians to
learn from our partner there and
immediately we knew we needed a hook for
this and that would be youth, with the
idea of they would have a strong vision
of what they wanted for Scotland, what
they could learn from Rwanda and what the
young people of Rwanda could teach us. And Rwanda I mean you were plunging
there into a country that has got the
most desperate relatively recent history
Remind us if you would just what
happened in 1994 There were two major tribes in
in Rwanda the Hutus and the Tutsis the
Hutu were the majority and after Belgium
left as an occupying power or a colonial
power the Hutu were in charge and
because the Tutsis had been the elite
for so much of history there was a real
sense of a kind of liberation force or a
Hutu power movement for Hutu pride and
that escalated I mean it didn't start in
1984 he didn't come out of nowhere there
were periods of violence from the 50s on
words but 1994 was very much a planned
plot to rid the country of the Tutsi
population and to have a revolution
almost because there weren't any other
divisions in the country There was the
same language there was pretty much the
same religion 60% Catholic but it really
escalated in 1994 into a planned
genocide. Gigha and Junaid you arrived back
in Scotland just on Thursday I'm sure
you're still trying to process it all
but I wonder what the thing is that
stands out most from your week in Rwanda
Junaid first: For me it was learning
about the recovery process for everyone
there. I mean for me for something
like to happen I would assume the
country would have been in civil war I mean
800,000 people killed within a hundred
day period and what was interesting
about this is that for other genocides
or memorials the history for other
countries it's generally the
government of the army doing this but
this wasn't that. These were neighbors
killing each other
these were neighborhoods. We've
learned about, for example, godfathers
killing their godchildren
It was extremely shocking. We met with
a group called the Light group which had
perpetrators -the people who were killing and
victims of the genocide and for them to
say we have God within our heart and we
are here to forgive for the sake of our
children to empower our country to move
on from this tragedy. What are the
responses to that? We were just completely
shocked and silenced. And just it was a
lot of thinking that went on during
this week we were abroad. And Gigha
was that what struck you - that there was
after after this recovery at all
Yes definitely I think what really
struck me was the sense in the country
of forgiveness that strength that so
many people in the country feel so
strongly about their faith and derive
from that. On the Sunday morning we
had just come back from spending an
evening with our host families in Rwanda
we went to church on the Sunday morning
and we were there for a three
hour service which is
very unusual for us but there was just
such a sense of warmth such a sense of
faith in the place and
it was overwhelming. It was overwhelming
for us throughout our week meeting real
people, hearing about real stories and
I got a real sense of of the history but
then on the Sunday afternoon visiting
the genocide memorial it kind of went
from two extremes-- from this overwhelming
sense of pride in their country and this
overwhelming sense of warmth to hearing
about the history and learning more and
really truly remembering it's a hard
experience to explain Junaid that
must've shaken you I mean who's very
talkative I mean but actually the whole
group we are very very competent people
and very very sure of ourselves and I
mean within the group I mean people were
just heartbroken I mean let me just
describe to us what that Kigali monument
is like as we've said over 800,000
people were killed during this genocide
and at this memorial which is the
largest one they have there were you
couldn't recover full bodies however
they estimated that there are two
hundred and fifty-nine thousand bodies
buried at this memorial that we went to
and after they've got other sort of
exhibitions and things they are
explaining about other genocides such as
you know the the Holocaust and the
Srebrenica genocide and it's
very visual in some aspects in some
parts of the museum so in one area they
have a room just with pictures pinned
up on the wall just little clips
You can touch the pictures from people who've
donated them -from families showing
the people that they've lost. There was a
section just for children which was at the
very very end it shows you a child's
picture. It'll say their name, 7 years old
their favorite food, their best friend, what
did they like to do and at the
it says how they were killed and you have a
description such as machete to the head
you had smashed on a wall it was a it
was a very difficult experience. And did
you have the same sense as Gigha of
extremes of emotional experience
because I mean I believe you missed Eid
for instance with your family in Cumbernauld but you celebrated it in Rwanda
in what sounds like an absolutely spectacular
yeah I mean yeah I truly felt at home
being in Rwanda we went to the Eid prayer on
Friday There was 20,000 people in the
stadium. We had those five Muslims and
five Christians that went as you said and
the girls themselves they all came in
and all the guys as well. They were
truly welcomed into the stadium as we
all prayed and it's so amazing
sort of experience being there I mean
the people themselves they showed no
sign of having went through this just
only 23 years ago I mean we met multiple
people there who've both their parents
were killed you in the year they were
born. They've never known their parents
if you were if you didn't know any
better you'd never know it. This trip was it
was sort of dual purpose in a way
because you were there to learn about
Rwanda you were also there to learn
about yourselves and each other and each
other's faiths was that something that
that did become important for you too
yeah as a Muslim living in Scotland
I don't think there's a great deal of
sort of Christian, we're not taught a lot
about the faith we have the faith around
us all the time when very young
we're at school. We learn about
Nativity plays, we learn about Jesus
Christ, we learn about Christmas. We learn about
Easter. But I mean what does a
practicing Christian actually do?
What does a practicing Muslim actually
do? So it was time for us to live along
with each other for example I was
sharing a room with somebody who works
as a youth worker
with youth within the Church of
Scotland and a trainee minister so there
was vast discussions that happened on
all these like long trips that we had
with each other I mean for myself I
guess I got to show to some people
working within the Church of Scotland
and other churches about what Muslims
are really like I mean five times of
prayer a day- what does that actually
look like? What do muslims do why do we
believe in x y&z and it was really good
to see the cultural aspect as well
because whilst we were there,
for example, the Muslims stayed with
the Muslim families for a day there and
the Christians stayed with Christian
families for a day just to see how our
practices change in other countries It was very eye opening for me seeing how
acting within a country that's fairly
similar to ours there's a 3% Muslim
population there there's about 1.5
percent here in Scotland It was eye
opening for me, the sort of
integration and the
collaborations that they do with the
churches That I think is something we can
really learn from here. and Gigha did you also
find a an interesting learning
experience in the same way? Yeah I
definitely did This was my
first experience of interfaith dialog in
any way and it really reiterated for me
how important it is and for our young
people to have faith education for our
young people to learn about different
religions through asking questions
through learning through experiencing
something like this. For instance I was
going to the Eid celebration and I was
going to experience and watch afternoon
prayers in the mosque and meeting Muslim
leaders for me personally as a Christian
I feel it was an overwhelming experience
and I feel through this and through
learning and the right education and
definitely faiths and religions we can
truly build true kind of knowledge and
understanding and respect for those
around us. Mirella it must be very
heartening for you too to hear how how
successful this has all been for your
young people the question does occur why
is it necessary to go all the way to
Rwanda to learn these things and whether
you know whether this isn't something
that faiths could be doing more of in
Scotland. Yeah and that question was
asked a lot in the planning process and
I had to really think about it myself to
truly justify it I mean it's on a number
of levels: one is that I run quite a lot
of formal dialogues here in the UK but
spending a week together and building
real friendships is so different from
just sitting around a table or even over
a cup of tea to ask why we do what we do
and who we and how do we define who we
are so by being there for a whole week
you know living together going through
all the food poisonings and all sorts of
things you know that that we all go
through and getting to ask questions at
really random times about the veil or
the Trinity even there just got asked on
the bus which is these these are
informal occasions where we get to ask
deep questions but also it was about
that international relationship and
I think on another level it was about
seeing what a random Islam is like or
and Christianity is like because here in
the UK we hear about the Middle East and
we hear about conflict and we hear about
homegrown terrorism and that that didn't
really come up at all it was really
about just an open chance to see what
the faith was about rather than about
the politics of things
so finally Gigha and Junaid what do you
feel you've brought back from Rwanda to
Scotland that you can build on here?
Definitely a great example of what
Christian Muslim relations can get to I
think there's a tendency within perhaps
the UK and perhaps Europe to think we have
all the answers but the relations that
they had there were exceptional one
thing that the Mufti of Rwanda
actually told us during one of our
earlier meetings is the thing that we
understand that there's a lot of
Islamophobia and racism and the rise of
like right-wing extremist groups within- well he said the West- he
says well perhaps the lessons that we've
learned within our country and from how
we've reacted to what's happened to us
perhaps our lessons can be passed on
to you and you can learn from us which I
thought was extremely heartening and
Gigha As a church youth worker
and I work with young people in
communities I feel it's so hugely
important teaching our young people
about other faiths and and allowing them to experience and and have
new experiences a really important thing
for young people as relationships and
it's not just relationships within our
faiths it's relationships with other
people that's a lovely thought to end on
many thanks to you all for joining me
Gigha Lennox Junaid Ashraf and
Mirella Yandoli