It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for pupils of Friends’ School, Laurelhill Community College and St Patrick’s Academy on January 28, as they heard a harrowing story about the genocide in Rwanda.
To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Jean Paul Samputu, who survived the conflict in the African country, had been invited to Friends’ to give a speech on forgiveness and ‘let his guitar talk’ by filling the assembly hall with African music.
The musician began his speech by explaining the cause of the genocide in 1994.
Rwandans were largely comprised of people from the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi tribes.
Tensions developed as they failed to live in harmony, without respect for each other. Tribal based discrimination snowballed into civil war, and tragically, large scale genocide, whilst the Hutus were in government control.
Students listened in awe to Jean Paul’s story, as the survivor described his father warning him to flee before the crowds came to kill indiscriminately.
“My house was empty,” he whispered as he expressed the brutality and heartbreak of returning to his home village of Butare to find that his parents and three siblings were amongst the estimated one million slaughtered in the 90-day genocide.
After finding out that his father’s best friend was the one who had killed him, Jean Paul spent nine years in pain and suffering,
“To know that my father was killed by my friend destroyed me,” he said.
The silence was tangible in the assembly hall as he spoke of the moment in which he had reached his lowest, declaring: “I wanted to die.”
Yet he climbed his way out of the dark hole, he said, by deciding to forgive the man who killed his parents, in order to save himself.
“It was the only decision to bring my life back,” he said.
Although the genocide occurred almost 20 years ago, Jean Paul disclosed that it could still happen again if people “don’t want to forget and don’t want to forgive”.
He stressed the importance of “promoting love and treating others how you would like to be treated.”
The visit ended on a high note, as Jean Paul embarked on a round of questions and answers before pupils danced to his Swahili song- ‘Karibu Mungu’, meaning ‘Close to God’.
Students broke into clapping, dancing and peals of laughter, finishing with Jean Paul declaring: “I came here to make you happy, but you made me happy.”