Mar. 31 (GIN) – Ceremonies around Rwanda and abroad are underway to mark the 20th year since the devastating genocide which, according to the Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda, took over a million lives during a three-month killing spree.

At a ceremony last Thursday in the town of Kirehe, thousands of residents gathered in a field to hear genocide memories. Nsengiyomva Apollinaise, a local official, said the memorials help Rwandans examine the causes and find a path on which to move forward.

The flame reaches Kigali, the capital, on April 7.

At Kirehe’s flame ceremony, Theopiste Mukanoheli recounted how as an 18-year-old she watched her neighbor dig a 10-foot grave to cram bodies in. She was inside Nyarubuye Catholic Church when attackers threw in grenades, killing hundreds. Most of her close family died there, she said.

Mike Nkuzumuwami, who helps look after the rebuilt red-brick church, says 35,000 people died in his hilltop community, a sea of green where tens of thousands of banana trees grow. One positive change since the genocide is a near erasure of the Hutu-Tutsi divide, he said, a principle directive of the Rwandan government, which wants Rwandans to see themselves as Rwandan, not an ethnic tribe.

“After the killings no one has called me a Tutsi, and those Hutus involved in the genocide regret what they have done,” the 45-year-old said.

School groups visit the church, mass grave and museum of death. Near the skulls and bones are tables of dusty brown clothes, sandals, slippers and shoes. The younger generation does not understand the genocide, Nkumuwami said, and Rwanda’s aging population doesn’t want them to repeat it.

At the Kwibuka 20 ceremony — a Rwandan word meaning “remember” and 20 for 20th anniversary — a large audience gazed at a film showing some of the genocide horror. A voice in English said the killings were a planned political campaign that came from an ideology called Hutu Power. Tutsis, the video says, were meant to be exterminated.

“This is something that happens every year, an event to help each Rwandan personally remember what happened, and examine the causes,” said Nsengiyomva Apollinaise, a local officials, who said his parents and siblings died in the genocide. “And also to see the path to move forward on.”

Other events can be seen on the website: