Like many people around the world, I was horrified at news out of Christchurch, New Zealand, this week. Yet another racial attack on innocent people. I mourned for the deaths of people I don’t know, I cried for a situation that I feel is out of control and I was angered by a hatred I can’t comprehend.
It got me thinking about my recent visit to Rwanda. I arrived in this country that I knew nothing about, except that Rwanda had been through immense conflict with the genocide. It was a mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War, which had started in 1990. Directed by members of the Hutu majority government, during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.
Neighbours killed neighbours, colleagues killed colleagues, lovers killed their lovers, all because they were different. This loss of life amounted to an estimated 70% of the Tutsi population. Over half of a racial population, eliminated in just 100 days.
To comprehend that as I walked around the Kigali Genocide Memorial hit me in the heart like a freight train. I felt so heavy with sadness as to how humans can inflict so much pain and destruction on a fellow human being just because of their differences.
Years on from that however, they have found such a resilient peace that has much to teach us. From those dark days, Rwanda has risen to a country that the rest of the world can learn from.
It was on the streets of Kigali that I learnt the word Ubumuntu. Ubumuntu is a Kinyarwanda word that means “to be human,” carrying a similar meaning to the word Ubuntu. Ubumuntu is to be humane: to genuinely care about others, to be generous and kind, to show empathy, to be sympathetic to the plight of others, and to recognize the humanity of others.
This word has been etched on my soul ever since I heard of it. To be human is such a profound thing. At the end of the day, we are all human, just skin and bones. There is nothing different between any race, just our beliefs. So how do we learn to hate just because of beliefs? Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” So why are we not choosing to love?
As a traveller, I appreciate nothing more than different. A different country means a different view of scenery, a different food to taste, but the one thing I take most pleasure and happiness from is a different belief and way of life from the people I meet.
I have been to church in Tonga, marvelled at mosques in Brunei, learnt the Buddhist ways of the Balinese, been healed by a Sangoma in South Africa, celebrated Independence Day in Malaysia, been invited to experience village life in Papua New Guinea and danced until the sun came up at an Indian wedding.
These are experiences that have made my life so much richer because of the cultural and religious differences of people from around the world. In exchange, every step of the way, I have shared my Australian way of life and culture with those I have met abroad.
That is the beauty of difference. It opens our hearts and souls. It teaches us something out of our ordinary. Is that not a lesson worth learning? As only through learning can we gain a sense of acceptance, and through acceptance, we can learn to love those differences.
Learn to love those differences for what they are. You don’t need to adopt those differences and change your way of life, but if you are open to understand them, then maybe we can get just a little bit closer to being united as one, instead of being so segregate.
So I ask you all, to learn the meaning of Ubumuntu and adopt it to your way of life. It is worth it.