On Saturday 8th February 2020, over 300 Rwandans from all over the UK, students, friends of Rwanda, members of the Commonwealth Futures programme and various institutions in London, came together to mark Rwanda’s National Heroes’ Day with a film screening of The 600 Film at one of the UK’s most historic institutions, Harrow School.
The event took place in Harrow’s War Memorial Building where the school remembers former students who gave their lives in military service. The school was founded in 1572 and its alumni include British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King Hussein of Jordan and the current Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The afternoon began with a reception in the Old Harrovian Room before moving through to the grand Speech Room for the High Commissioner address and film screening.
Her Excellency Yamina Karitanyi noted thanked attendees for joining with Rwanda and Rwandans in marking a significant celebration. The High Commissioner paid tribute to the selfless young men and women, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, calling on guests to not only be inspired by “their courage and bravery, but also their love for their country and its people.” This was at the heart of the Inkotanyi in their tireless, self-sacrificing struggle to reclaim their country and liberate millions of Rwandans.
The documentary film was met with a warm reception from the audience and stimulated a thought-provoking discussion after the film. The panel included Richard Hall, Executive Producer of The 600 Film, who gave insights into the making of the film, Lieutenant Alexander Ikuzo Abia who serves in the Rwandan Defence Force and is currently completing his Masters’ studies at the Staff and Defence Academy in the UK and Mr Jonathan Kalisa Kalemera, one of the elders of the Rwandese community in the UK. The discussion, which focussed on how we can channel the values of heroism in our daily lives so that we might make a positive difference in our communities, was chaired by Dr Michael Gray, Director of Studies at Harrow and an advocate for including the Genocide against the Tutsi in school syllabus’.
Lt. Abia, drawing on the values of responsibility, urged guests, particularly the younger attendees, to “take ownership and don’t wait for anyone else to act for you – Find what you need to do and get it done.”
Mr Kalemera defined the essence of heroism as “doing for others” and gave the example of young local hero Emmanuel Niringiyimana who famously single-handedly built a road connecting the villages of Gashari and Murambi in Karongi District, Western Province. “He did this for others, not himself.” In his closing remarks, Mr Kalemera challenged the attendees to “Be a hero wherever you are and whatever you can do”, drawing from the example set by the Inkotanyi, who achieved so much in-spite of limited resources.
The 600 tells the little-known story of a group of Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers trapped behind enemy lines at the outset of the Genocide against the Tutsi in in 1994. The film contains eyewitness accounts from genocide survivors and members of The 600 who detail their counterattack against a much larger force, and the heroic rescues they made of civilians while under fire. Richard Hall shared the challenge in producing the film in a concise form as “it could have easily been much longer” due to the overwhelming accounts and detail from many eye witnesses.
The film was a fitting way to reflect on and honour the sacrifices made by so many Rwandans who gave their lives for their country, as the diaspora came together to celebrate the values of bravery and selflessness exhibited by the 600 and the RPA to liberate Rwanda. The day was a tribute to those brave Rwandans who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that today Rwandans all over the world can live with the dignity they deserve.
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