‘I had no idea if I was Hutu or Tutsi’–Rwandan genocide survivor brings message of hope to students

Posted: October 26, 2011 in News
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By KIRSTEN GORUK Herald-Tribune staff
When Yannick Tona first heard that people in Rwanda had starting killing the Tutsi members of the population, he thought that Tutsis were some kind of animal.
“I had no idea if I was Hutu or Tutsi, but when I saw my mom’s face, I knew something was wrong,” said Tona, a Rwandan genocide survivor.
At the age of four, Tona, his mother, his younger sister and his uncle were the only family members to survive the events of 1994. Spurred on by a militia group and hate propaganda, during the spring of that year, in just 100 days more than 800,000 Rwandan people were murdered.
Tona, 21, visited Grande Prairie on Tuesday as part of the Canadian tour sponsored by the Aegis Trust, a UK charity that aims to prevent, educate and eliminate genocide.
He told his story to a gym packed full of high school students from Peace Wapiti Academy. The presentation was originally scheduled to happen at the Composite High School, but the location was changed early Tuesday morning.
Since getting involved with the trust five years ago, Tona has spoken to thousands of students.
“It’s been really interesting.
You meet a lot of people, but the nice thing is at the end of the talk, a few people come down and tell me how they’ve been touched by the message. I feel really great about contributing something,” he said.
It’s difficult not to be affected by his message, as Tona plainly explains how at such a young age, he and his mother had to flee his home country. Tona frankly told everyone that he didn’t even really say goodbye to his family because he thought he would see them very soon.
“At that time, I didn’t know if would be the last time I would see so many members of my family. At that moment I didn’t know that in 100 days my life would be so changed.”
As he and his mother made the three-week trek on foot to the border of the Congo, they fought off people who used to be their friends, but now wanted to kill them. Bodies littered the streets and women were raped in front of Tona’s eyes.
“When I reached the Congo I was physically and mentally dead,” he said.
It was just two months after the genocide that he and his mother returned to Rwanda, where he still lives today. Years later, when he could fully comprehend the atrocity he’d lived though, Tona made the decision to speak out.
“I believe people will learn from what happened in my country and to make sure that it will never happen again in their communities or the world.,” he said.
“I speak to the young people because they are the future leaders of our community and our countries. It’s important to learn the lessons of the past to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
Near the end of his presentation, Tona addressed the students directly and asked that if they forget every word he said, that they at least hold onto the piece of advice that he was about to give.
“Most of the time when you see something wrong in society or something wrong in your community or the world, we just push to others and say someone will step up. It’s not my job,” he said.
“Small things you do can transform someone’s life. Take action. If you see something wrong in your community, don’t ignore it.”
Source: http://www.dailyheraldtribune.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3346439

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