Immaculée Ilibagiza - 2008
When we hear a story from someone from another part of the world, it opens our mind. When we hear a true story from someone who has experienced a modern horror, it opens our hearts as well. Immaculée Ilibagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide of the mid-1990s. In spring 1994, Immaculée returned home from college for the Easter holidays. Overnight her community was turned into a bloodbath after the assassination of Rwanda’s president, a member of the Hutu tribe. Calls for the death of all Tutsis were broadcast immediately over the airwaves. Rwandan Hutus took up the machete and any other weapons they had and began to kill every Tutsi they could find.
Immaculée was able to flee her home and sought refuge from a pastor. He was a member of the Hutu tribe and a man of God by belief and practice. He answered her pleas for sanctuary. Immaculée, along with seven other women, hid in a three-foot by four-foot bathroom in the minister’s home for 91 days. When peacekeeping forces stepped in to stop the slaughter, Immaculée and the other women fled to their camp in the dark of night. Even then their nightmare was not over. Nearly 1,000,000 Tutsis had been slaughtered, including Immaculée’s parents and two of her brothers. Her third brother only survived because he was studying outside the country during this tragic time.
Today, Immaculée travels the world spreading a message about the horrors of ethnic genocide and the power of compassion and forgiveness. For ninety minutes during two student and one community presentation, she mesmerized the audience with her compelling story of living history. Here are just some of the comments made by WSD seventh grade students after hearing her powerful presentation:
“Immaculée’s presentation influenced me to speak up and express my feelings that one person can do more than they think sometimes.”
“…now when I think about it, I wish I could be able to stand up for people who are getting treated differently just because they are from a different culture.”
“Just her presence opened my eyes a lot wider on genocide and that it happens to real people in real places.”
“Immaculée has influenced me to not hold on to anger but to forgive. She has taught me that anger is not the way to go.”
“It made me realize that although people may be mean, they are still people and they need to be forgiven.”
Immaculée’s story of spiritual triumph and forgiveness is a powerful witness to the consequences of events that take place every day across the globe. One 7th grade student’s response to her story says it all: “I believe her presentation will positively influence me to make better decisions. I really now understand what our role in humanity is…to help others in times of need.”
In 2008, over 1,900 middle and high school students and 950 citizens from across central Wisconsin heard Immaculée’s powerful story. Bringing these compelling stories to central Wisconsin is the work of A Walk in Their Shoes.