What might it mean to “be Northstowe” – a Remembrance Day reflection

Remembrance Day in a new town is an interesting thing. None of us have ancestors or roots here. And yet we all come with a story and a heritage. Those stories, and what we do with them, will shape us.

This week, in the Primary School, Secondary College, and, on Sunday, outside by our newly named Bug Hunters’ Water, Northstowe is coming together to remember the horrors of war and the heroism of individuals through story and through silence, so that these may become real in the present and influence and inspire us to work for reconciliation, peace and justice in the future

Our friends at Northstowe Muslims have put up a webpage sharing stories about Muslims who served in the war. Visit their website to read more! https://northstowemuslims.org/upcoming_events/remembrance-day.

Many of us are now some generations removed from the young women and men who died fighting for peace and justice in Europe in the two world wars. Few of us know first hand the impact of conflict, although some of us, sadly, do.

So what do we hope to achieve by this national Remembering?

Last month, I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Africa, in Rwanda, where, in 1994 there was a genocide. In just 100 days, over five hundred thousand members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, as well as some moderate Hutu and Twa, were killed by armed Hutu militias.

I visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigiali, where the Kinyarwanda word for Remember is spelled out in three foot high letters. – Kwibuka

I looked into the eyes of photos of children, women, and men –  murdered. Not just the ethnic minority Tutsis, but also those who tried to protect them. I heard their stories. I wept.

There were stories and photographs, too, of other genocides. Including the holocaust that happened on our own continent. Each story precious. Each story almost too hard to read.

And, since then, I’ve read and wept over more stories of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and those of many religious and non religious beliefs who lived through the horrors of European wars and conflicts

Back in Africa, after our visit to the Memorial, I spent the afternoon with my Rwandan friend, who survived the genocide as a young person, as he remembered.

But, as he told stories of Remembrance, they became, miraculously, stories of reconciliation and rebuilding

I realised that the reason they remember is because they recognise that the only way to unite diverse people to bring peace is to start to share their experiences… their lives… their remembrance… and put it to work to build something bigger.

And the best place for such enormous change to start is right here… in ordinary every day places, like schools, and sports pitches, and villages.

In Rwanda, I met young people living lives of true heroism. True Bravery. I saw the heroism of Rwanda’s young people who were daring work together with those whose families had fought against them, despite great personal pain. I heard testimony, time and again, of people who had grown up expecting that Tribal Pride meant they should fight the enemy… but who were now working together to fight the misunderstanding of hatred and jealous. They say “Ndi Umunyarwanda” – I’m Rwandan.

Today, as we remember our own European history, I wonder if we are brave enough to turn this remembering into a quest for reconciliation and unity?

What might in mean to us to say “We’re Northstowe”.

At the Secondary School this morning, I joined in with those of all cultures and backgrounds at their Act of Remembrance. And I read these extracts from a poem about role of young people in rebuilding Rwanda written by Rwandan teenager, Amina Umuhoza,

The storm is over and the rain is over
But I can still hear the voice of the thunder
And that makes me trembling with the fear I recall
Very well our history as Rwandans

Strength, wisdom and patriotism were our true colour
Smile, love, and unity were our costume
Milk honey and meat were our daily meal
Unfortunately darkness fell apart.

Weakness, failure became our true colour
Hatred and jealousy became our costume,

Poverty and idleness transform us into misery
Finally, genocide invaded out nation

As the tear drop cannot return to where it came,
From so, we cannot change our past but
We can Learn from it
By eradicating the ideology of genocide
We have the ability of realizing our nation

We got capacity of working hard
We ought to change our mindset
We must live in peace like brothers
We belong to the same family as we
Forgive and ask forgiveness from each other.

It is our benefit to contribute to the nation
Program Gacaca is the fountain of reconciliation
Ndi Umunyarwanda is the cornerstone of our solidary
And commemoration is the precious weapon to never turn back


So today, on Remembrance Day, in our very different context, perhaps we can take away that hard won wisdom:

Can we say “We Are One.”?

And remember, because, as Rwanda’s young poet says:

commemoration is the precious weapon to never turn back.

Wreath Making and Remembrance activities from Pathfinder Primary

An invitation

Whether you have religious or non religious beliefs, we invite you to join many of Northstowe’s Civic, Faith, and Uniformed Organizations, as well as local schools and other residents, for a short (less than half hour) Act of Remembrance on Sunday morning.

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