My work as a social activist started with the publishing of a print magazine. That publication has since evolved over time into this website and further into an organization of social activism called the African Heritage Foundation (AHF).
In my first ever publication over 9 years ago, I published an article sent in by a Rastafari sistren that spoke of a love and forgiveness many cannot begin to fathom. The article spoke about a woman called Immaculée Ilibagiza and how she forgave the killing for her family in the Rwanda genocide. Today I share with you an article from the Chicago Tribune written in 2017 on this remarkable woman.
It almost defies human capability — that Immaculée Ilibagiza could survive three months hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women while genocide raged across her town and country; and that she could come to forgive the people who butchered her parents and brothers and searched in vain for her during the killing storm.
Ilibagiza’s story of courage, faith and eventual forgiveness is the subject of the New York Times bestseller, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust”. She has written several other books, as well, and a motion picture about her story is expected to be released by early 2019.
Today, a mother of two living in the United States, Ilibagiza has shared her story countless times around the world.
In the 23 years that have passed since Ilibagiza, weighing just 65 pounds, walked out of the 3-by-4-foot secret bathroom to learn her family and many of her friends had been killed, she has overcome the kind of psychological trauma that often derails individuals. Through truth and prayer, the devout Catholic says, she has been able to move forward from one of history’s most horrifying chapters with a message of hope.
It was not an easy journey away from the hurt and anger of loss to eventually being able to turn her parents’ home in the village of Mataba, Rwanda into a public place of healing and comfort.
She has come to realize that people don’t want to hear general overviews. “They want to hear how you did it, how you survived. They want to hear your story,” she said. Storytelling, she said, is a powerful medium that can touch people in ways dry narratives or cold statistics, even staggering ones, cannot.
“When I share my story, I see people unloading their own,” she said. “They are looking at you but they are thinking about their own story. When you share the truth, another person understands. They feel that.
On April 6, 1994, the president of Rwanda’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, igniting a tinder box of already escalating fears and emotions. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country.
Although the differences between Hutu and Tutsi were minimal, a history of favoritism instilled by European influences was enough to turn friends and neighbors against each other. Located in the southwest part of the country, Mataba was not spared the horror, as gangs of Hutus went house to house slaughtering men, women and children. By the time it was over, nearly a million people were dead.
At the time, Ilibagiza was home on Easter break from the National University of Rwanda, where she had been studying to become an engineer. To protect his only daughter from the marauding gangs of mostly unemployed men hepped up on drugs, liquor and misinformation, Ilibagiza’s father sent her to the home of a local pastor, a Hutu man whose Tutsi wife had passed away. He sheltered her and seven other women in a hidden 3-by-4 foot bathroom. For 91 days, the women huddled silently, taking turns sitting, eating only when it was safe for food to be delivered, and flushing the toilet only when the toilet in the house’s other bathroom was flushed. All the while, genocide raged outside the home.
Though her Tutsi status prevented her from choosing her own college major, Ilibagiza had always had an interest in psychology. During her stay in the bathroom, she would learn first hand the mind’s ability to overcome the seemingly impossible situations.
“I truly felt I had a connection to God,” she said. “I was able to bring that faith to the other women. I hate to make it sound like I did such amazing things yet it was true.”
Often, she said, God would send her messages, such as the time he told her to have the pastor move a wardrobe in front of the secret bathroom’s door. The pastor hesitated but conceded and the next time the killers came to search the house, they walked right past the wardrobe. Another time, the message was to learn English so she could work with the United Nations once the terror ended. She requested an English Bible and dictionary and read both while in captivity.
“What happened to me in that room had nothing to do with strength,” she said. “It was almost like a peaceful obedience — a clarity of what I could do. That clarity allowed me to do whatever God wanted me to do.”
After her release, she realized that what God wanted her to do then was forgive and tell the world why.
Though the undercurrents of evil often simmer for years, sometimes decades, Rwanda, she said, is proof of how quickly blind hate can spread. Genocide is a recurring dark chapter in human history that often begins with inexplicable prejudice. And there are parallels today, she said.
“Don’t put people in boxes. Don’t pre-judge them if you don’t know them. Because you don’t know when anger and prejudice will take you by surprise and you can end up killing somebody,” she said.
“Also, I hope people will do an examination of conscience. Lastly, she said, she would like people to find hope through her story.
“No matter what you go through, there’s always hope,” she said.
Because her spiritual journey took her to a place of understanding and forgiveness, Ilibagiza said when she eventually came face-to-face with the man who macheted her mother and one of her brothers to death, she was able to say, “I forgive you.”
“Yes genocide did happen in my country,” she said. Now, she added, it is up to future generations to learn the lesson that “this is what happens when we don’t remember what we are created for — to love one another, to forgive one another.” END.
I have heard it sung in a reggae song that an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind. The problem of an increasing murder rate fueled by the hopelessness of the youth will not be solved by capital punishment. What will happen is that offenders, youth between 17-25 who believe they have nothing to aspire to , will know what it means if they are caught. Death on the street and death on the gallows is not much different. They will fight back and a mini civil war will start between gunmen and police. Do we really want this? There is a better way!
The AHF is of the opinion that education reform, youth economic reform, youth media reform and the legalization of cannabis are plausible long term solutions to violent crime.
If you have not read yesterday’s article on cannabis and the reduction of crime please do so and take the survey. Violent crime impacts us all and as such we must all have input on the solutions.