Congratulation to winners. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to win the judges heart. In turn, I feel more energetic for next year competition. This is the essay written by one who won the grand prize ticket to Japan to received the Minister of Education Award at a ceremony during the Goi Peace Foundation Forum 2010 which been held at Yomiuri Hall in Tokyo.
|2010 International Essay Contest for Young People|
|Youth Category – 1st PrizeJourney of All
My name is Alline Kabbatende and I am a 22 year old from Rwanda. I just graduated from university in the USA. Every time I tell people where I am from, the first thing to spring to their minds is the 1994 Genocide. It feels like I am yoked heavily to my country’s dark past. When I landed in the US for the first time, the immigration officer glanced at my passport and immediately posed the question, “are you Hutu or Tutsi?” My answer was simple, “I am Rwandan.”
I did not respond to the officer that way just to avoid deeper questions regarding my experience but because indeed, it has taken me years to come to terms with the fact that I lost a lot of family in the genocide for no sound reason other than that we are Tutsi. I bring this up because I hated Hutus regardless of who they were as individuals. This realization opened my eyes to the fact that I had the capacity to do the same to others and also because I have learned painfully, that my country has no hope of living in peace and harmony until we stop looking through the ethnic lens.
I am one in six billion people worldwide and Rwanda is a minute country and yet to me the reality of what race, color and economic status can do to the fabric of society is flesh and blood―it is lost friends and family. My story is enough to fuel in me a vision of a world whereby race, color, religion and caste are not merely tolerated but openly celebrated; a peaceful and harmonious world will only be one where we choose to discuss our differences with an open mind to learn from one another. Peace might translate into living together in a conflict-free world but harmony will only be possible when diversity is welcomed and not viewed as a threat.
One way to work on this vision is to be open. It is a reality that I have been raised to think that the Hutu is a murderer or that the white man is my oppressor. That is because this has been passed down―drawn from experience of our ancestors―the generations. As impressionable youths, we have fed on these ideologies but we also have the power to change this by opening up and talking about it. Three years ago I sat down with the daughter of a genocide perpetrator and we shared how much we hated each other’s ethnic groups. After sharing experiences, we both realized that we are not different at all; we share the same aspirations in life and tastes in chocolate. I have ever since realized the shallowness to profiling people based on race or color, but I am where I am because I confronted my warped views.
Poverty tends to provide fertile breeding ground for conflict and corruption among many things. Economic stability is probably the first step closer to a peaceful, harmonious world. I am an engineer looking forward to a successful career but I also know that I possess the skills to make a difference in my third world nation. I plan to use those skills in a non-profit fashion as a means to be instrumental in the fight against poverty. A rapid ascent out of poverty will take much more than acts of philanthropy but the problem of brain drain―which is draining skill power out of poor nations―is one that cannot be blamed on profiting wealthier nations. It is the responsibility of these young people to realize their power to change the economic situations in their countries and make a choice to enrich their countries and by doing so, enrich themselves.
No one can claim to know the perfect formula for a peaceful and harmonious world. I have come to accept the power of ‘one’―my power not only to change myself for the better but by doing so, change those around me. I have felt deep hatred before, and I continue to struggle with prejudices everyday, but the mere effort to pay attention to these feelings have helped me fight and at times, overcome them. That is what my vision really is―a journey, not a destination. We do not know when the entire world will be peaceful and harmonious but as young people, we still have time to make a difference. Investing our energy in living in peace and harmony with our neighbors each day will ensure a better world for our children. We however know there is never enough peace and harmony and they too, will continue this visionary journey.