Immaculee recognizes a friend
in the crowd.
In a calm and gentle voice, Immaculee Ilibagiza described the horrors of the Rwandan genocide to more than 900 rapt listeners who packed the Mirenda Center for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development on March 7 for a chance to hear her story first hand.
Ilibagiza lost both of her parents and two brothers to the carnage that wracked the country in the aftermath of the president's plane being shot down in April 1994. The death of the president, a Hutu, fueled hatred for the Tutsis, the minority tribe in the African country. A neighbor, who concealed Ilibagiza and seven other women in a bathroom that measured 3' by 4', left a radio playing within earshot of the eight frightened women. There, Ilibagiza heard reports that "the government was calling on people to kill everyone in my tribe." Broadcasts called the Tutsis "cockroaches and snakes."
"Now, no one is a Hutu or Tutsi," explained Ilibagiza. "We're all Rwandans."
The women spent 91 days in the tiny bathroom, totally dependent on whatever small portions of food and water the neighbor could smuggle into them. At one point, after the government ordered house-to-house searches to exterminate the remaining Tutsis, a mob of more than 300 armed Hutus descended on her village. They swarmed the house where she was hiding but, miraculously, abandoned the search before looking in the bathroom where eight frightened Tutsi women cowered.
|More than 900 people were
riveted on her every word.
A brief video served as introduction for the genocide survivor turned author. In part, it chronicles the post-conflict meeting of Ilibagiza and a Hutu man, the brother of the person who killed her brother. In the spirit of peace that she now preaches worldwide, she embraced the Hutu and expressed forgiveness.
Achieving such emotional balance was not easy for Ilibagiza, who readily admits that her first feelings were anger and the desire for revenge. "But I prayed the rosary to rescue myself from thoughts of hatred. It gave me peace."
After the ordeal, she recalled the words of her father, a teacher: "Never generalize people. Never put people in boxes." Ilibagiza took those words to heart, understood that all Hutus were not to blame for the outrageous actions of a small segment of the tribe, and has dedicated herself to spreading her father's message of forgiveness and reconciliation ever since.
Her first book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House) was released in March of 2006 and quickly became a New York Times best seller. To date it has been translated into fifteen languages worldwide. She has written three additional books in recent years: Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide; Our Lady of Kibeho;and If Only We Had Listened.
Proceeds of items sold at the lecture were donated to theLeft To Tell Charitable Fund (LTTCF). The Fund relocates Rwandan orphans and assists them with educational needs, providing scholarships to school-age children. Ilibagiza’s parents were both educators in Rwanda, and the LTTCF was inspired by and established to honor their memory.