TCU Rwandan genocide survivor stories motivate students

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    It’s been 20 years since the African nation of Rwanda was devastated by 100 days of genocide in 1994 that left nearly one million people dead.

    TCU Intensive English Program student Yvonne Umugwaneza was 14 years old at the time. Until Tuesday, she had never shared her story.

    “It was all beyond my understanding, but I knew I needed to help the people hurting around me because I had already lost ones that I loved,” Umugwaneza said.

    Umugwaneza and first-year student Yannick Tona talked about their experiences during the genocide as part of a TCU ceremony commemorating the violence. The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of the Tutsi ethnic group and some of the Hutu ethnic group by the Hutu majority.

    They were part of a delegation of 10 TCU students who travelled to Washington D.C. Monday to mark the 20th anniversary. They talked about the genocide when they returned to campus. About 50 people attended the commemoration in Palko 130 Tuesday night. 

    Tona said he was four years old at the time of the genocide and had a very successful life, but in one second, everything changed.

    “Before the genocide my family was living wealthy and comfortably, but 100 days after, everything was gone.”

    He said he learned that he gained nothing from hating people and the most important thing to do was to make a choice and change people instead.

    Some students said they had never learned about the genocide in Rwanda before and were shocked by the devastation that filled the testimonies.

    “I was shaken by what Yannick and Yvonne said. Their stories were disturbing and the suffering they endured should have never occurred,” said sophomore political science major Scott Snodgrass.

    Though they suffered through one of the darkest times in human history, Snodgrass said he felt encouraged by Tona’s hope and felt challenged to make a conscious choice to change the world for the betterment of humanity.

    The Rwandan Student Committee held the commemoration to give TCU students and community members the opportunity to learn from the past and to make a change, chair faculty sponsor of the committee Kurk Gayle said.

    Audience members said they were inspired by the survivors’ stories and their willingness to forgive and work towards uniting Rwanda.

    “The grace some of the Tutsis have shown the Hutus is unfathomable and deeply admirable,” said strategic communication and communication studies double major sophomore Kimberly Czechowski.

    This story of grace motivated students to make a difference and tell people about the stories they heard.

    Making more people aware of the genocide is essential because it helps others learn from the past said first-year psychology major Gianna Tiedemann.

    “After hearing their stories, I want do my part, and find ways to help victims of genocide and also work to stop genocide from happening in the future,” Snodgrass said.

    The commemoration gave people the opportunity to understand the Rwandan genocide on a deeper level. TCU played a role in the worldwide commemoration, remembering those who lost their lives 20 years ago and gathering with those who live with the memory of those 100 days.

    “Attending the commemoration has put everything I value into perspective, I have absolutely nothing to complain about and endless things to be grateful for,” Czechowski said.