In a debate in the House of Commons today on Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), Members of Parliament spoke movingly about the importance of Holocaust education and commemoration, and in particular the valuable work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Many Members have spoken in moving terms about their personal experiences. My interest in understanding more about genocide arose through visits to Rwanda. Members may be aware that there is a Conservative social action project, known as “Project Umubano”, in which I participated in 2008, 2009 and last year. Up to 2008, my career had involved running a business in my home town and my overseas visits had been limited to family holidays. I left school at a time when we did not do gap years. I had never been to Africa or to a third world country. When I applied to join the project, I knew very little about Rwanda’s history. I had vague memories of pictures on TV at some time during the ’90s, and I watched pictures of a conflict that, to me at that time, was in a distant country with little relevance to my life.
Before my visit in 2008, I started to read up about what had happened in Rwanda throughout 1994. The more I read, the more places I visited while I was there and the more accounts I heard of how the conflict had affected people, the more shocked I became and the more I struggled to understand how the world had stood by and allowed a genocide to happen.
I was particularly interested to hear the accounts of survivors, via the work of an organisation called “SURF”, which is the Survivors Fund. When, a couple of years later, SURF brought a number of survivors to Bilton school in my constituency, I was keen to go along to add my contribution about what I had seen and to hear more accounts from people who had lived through the atrocities, many of whom had seen their neighbours hacked to death. I was interested in ensuring that the message about genocide got across to the next generation.
We thank Mark and all the other MPs that support the work of SURF, and continue to help raise awareness of the situation of survivors of the genocide in Rwanda today.