When people think of Rwanda the first thing that comes to mind is the tragic genocide that occurred 22 years ago. In the 100 days following April 6, 1994, approximately 800,000 men, women, and children were massacred in one of society’s most tragic genocides. My travel group arrived in Kigali, following a short plane right from Nairobi, Kenya and as soon as we put our bags down we headed straight to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.


We chose to use our free day to visit the Genocide Memorial in order to learn more about the conditions that led up to the environment that fostered the systematic killings. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important and well-done museum that anyone who visits the region should absolutely visit. It is only through education that we as every day citizen can prevent mass atrocities from occurring in our communities.

Photos of children were killed in the 1994 genocide, featured in the Memorial

22 years later, Rwanda is now looked at as one of the most beautiful countries in Africa and has the fastest growing economy. Additionally, there are still roughly 100,000 people living in refugee camps, hoping to one day be resettled to another country.

There are five refugee camps in Rwanda: Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Nkamira, and Nyabiheke. My colleagues and I visited Gihembe camp, which is roughly 30 miles from Kigali, in the small town of Byumba. This camp is home to more than 20,000 refugees, primarily from Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda is known as the land of 1000 hills and the Gihembe camp is settled on the top of one of the land’s many hills.

Upon arriving to Byumba, we were greeted by colleagues from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who briefed us on their work in Rwanda. Through our discussion we learned that 99% of the camp’s population is predominantly Congolese nationals originating from North and South Kivu Provinces of Masisi, Rutshuru and Kalehe Territories, and from Katanga and Oriental Provinces. Children under the age of 18 represent 51.2% of the camp’s population who, because only 1% of refugees are resettled world wide, often spend more than 20 years living in the camp.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of the visit was when one young scholar asked our group, “Will I be able to come to the United States and leave the camp.” The hope that lit up each child’s eyes by our presence was sobering because I know that the majority of them will not have the chance to be resettled to the US, Canada, Australia, or another country that resettles refugees from the camp.

Refugees living in this refugee camp, and I’m sure any refugee camp, live every day hoping that their lives will get better and that they will have a chance at a normal live – one where they could thrive.

Classrooms and residences at the Gihembe refugee camp

At Global Cleveland we are committed to supporting Greater Cleveland’s international community, including refugees. While the experience of visiting a refugee camp is not the most exciting and joyful, it is an experience that I would wish for every single citizen of the United States. Not investing in refugees is a major mistake and we will continue to work on sharing the economic impact on refugees in our region for all to understand!

During the early 1900s Cleveland’s population topped out at nearly 800,000, making us the nation’s fifth most important immigrant gateway city. Cleveland thrived during the 1900s because we welcomed immigrants and refugees to our region with open arms. It is important to remember this and to continue being welcoming region that is a place of opportunity for all.