Rwandan Genocide Survivor Speaks to MBS Students

At a special All-School Meeting on Monday, April 11, MBS students and faculty had the privilege of listening to Kizito Kalima share his emotional story about how he survived the 1994 Rwandan Genocide as a 15 year-old boy. Mr. Kalima endured severe post-traumatic stress for years after the horrible events until he chose to forgive the perpetrators. This choice enabled him to live a life dedicated to helping others, and today he is the founder of the Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Indianapolis.

Mr. Kalima, a member of the Tutsi tribe, recalled being a teenager home from boarding school on Easter break when the horror started. He heard on the radio that the Hutu president of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, had been killed. At first he was excited that government restrictions would be lifted and the country’s civil war might be over.  Instead, his mother quickly informed him that ethnic Hutu extremists had started arranging armed militias to kill Tutsi families that they deemed responsible for their president’s death.  

Within days, Mr. Kamila’s neighborhood was completely destroyed and he was separated from his family and on the run. While trying to flee, he was ambushed by a mob of 50 people and taken to a mass grave where one of the Hutu attackers swung a machete at his head. He dodged it as much as he could, but the tip of the machete hit his forehead and he was knocked unconscious. He woke up a couple of hours later and tried to escape but was caught and taken to a prison. 

Again, he was able to escape and briefly reconnected with his family before being captured again. This time, his mother was taken away and killed in a mass grave. “It’s been hard for me. It’s been more than 20 years, but I still struggle with that,” he said. “I didn’t know that by the time I was 14 or 15 years old, I’d be an orphan. It hurts.” 

Eventually, Mr. Kamila was able to escape at night and he hid in a swamp from April to July, 1994. “For almost three months, I lived like a wild animal,” he said. “I didn’t have shoes, I didn’t have a jacket, I didn’t have anything.” Toward the end of June, he said that everything got extremely quiet and he could no longer hear the sound of guns and bombs. “It was like a horror movie,” he said. “I was thinking I’m the only person left in the world.” A few weeks later, he was rescued.

Afterwards, Mr. Kalima was taken to boarding school, but he had no family to take care of him, and he moved from foster home to foster home.  His only relief from his reality was playing basketball. He played in surrounding African countries before moving to the United States. He finished high school in Chicago and attended Indiana University.

While everything looked good on the outside, Mr. Kamila experience nightmares, anxiety and depression. He visited a clinic on his college campus, and the nurse asked him if he had ever experienced any kind of trauma. “Yes, I was in the Rwandan Genocide,” he replied. 

The nurse urged him to share his story with people, which helped him heal some of his trauma. “The more I spoke, the more I felt better,” he said. “I felt like my life changed completely.”

He also began reading about the power of forgiveness and met a Holocaust survivor who encouraged hm to let go of his anger. He adopted two teenage Rwandan Genocide survivors and created the nonprofit Peace Center for Forgiveness & Reconciliation.

In 2020, he even returned to Rwanda to forgive the person who nearly killed him with a machete 26 years earlier.  “I decided to forgive because I wanted to live my life,” he said. “On the plane ride back, I thought this was the best feeling I’d ever had. I’m free."

In a Q&A with students, Mr. Kalima was asked if he identifies as being a Tutsi. “At the end of the day, I’m a human being first. I don’t want to leave the legacy of bitterness and anger to my kids,” he said. 


 

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