Eyes of Rwanda: Portraits From the Hospital in Rwinkwavu
In November 2006, I was invited to visit and photograph a hospital in Rwinkwavu, in eastern Rwanda. In 2005, the Boston-based organization Partners in Health, founded by the visionary Dr. Paul Farmer, was invited by the government of Rwanda and given funding by the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative to bring their model for AIDS treatment to rural Rwanda. The government selected this region, described by one Rwandan government minister as one of the most destitute areas in Rwanda, for this model clinic. They rebuilt the hospital, left untouched since the 1994 genocide. I was the first photographer permitted to photograph there.
It was impossible for me to be in Rwanda without constantly thinking of the genocide. I passed people doing their community service work, clearing the weeds on the side of the road; I watched the bustling, colorful streets of Kigali, the capital; I walked by the lines of people at the hospital waiting for HIV/AIDS tests; and I thought: what did they do during the genocide? Was he a killer? Did she turn her head so as not to see? Did she manage to hide? Did someone show him mercy? Is that why he is still alive today?
In 1994, almost one million Rwandans, largely Tutsi, were killed by their former friends and neighbors, mostly Hutu, in a span of one hundred days. The scale of it is simply not imaginable. One Tutsi survivor said to me: “it is incomprehensible”. But imagine it we must: it happened. Neighbor slaughtered neighbor. Hutu husbands were forced to kill their Tutsi wives. Teachers killed their pupils. Members of a soccer team went after their former teammates with machetes.
In Rwinkwavu, I saw hope, where everything would point to bleakness. Partners in Health believes that you deal with problems one person at a time, and you care for that person as if he or she were your family. You start with one person, one problem, and go from there. Each person is deserving of basic human rights.
Clean white sheets. Women laughing over dishes in the kitchen. Hope, dignity, the possibility of survival—all this in a place which is the most densely populated country in Africa, one of the poorest, where average life expectancy is 38 years, a place which can never run away from the horror of its recent history.