A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting an international student who was attending the university where I teach. The first thing that many notice about Serge Gasore is his gentle, kind nature and ever-present smile. What it takes awhile to notice is his steely determination and tough as nails character. This is a man whose gentle hopefulness is grounded on a foundation of tragedy and faith. As I began to know Serge better and to learn his story, I was inspired to look at my life and my place here on this earth in a different way. I’m honored that Serge has allowed me the opportunity to share his story with you today in the See It & Be It series. Let me introduce you to a man who once hid for his life but now works with resolve to help his people and his country.
Serge was born in Rwanda in 1986. Rwanda is a small country in Africa with 8,162,715 people, and 10,169 square miles. It is smaller than the state of Maryland and it is in the central east part of Africa. Serge’s country was divided into 3 tribes, the Abahutu (Hutu), the Abatutsi (Tutsi) and the Abatwa (Twa). I asked him to tell me briefly about the tragedy that had shaped him into the man he has become. A warning, Serge is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and his story may be difficult for some to read. While he is not graphic in his descriptions, they are tragic. This is what Serge told me,
“The genocide began on April 6, 1994 after the Hutu president’s airplane crashed. This is when the Hutus began to say, “You killed our president.” It was just an excuse; they had already been planning to kill us. They used the president’s death as justification to begin the slaughter. This was the day when the conflict became a reality of death in Rwanda. I know they were planning to kill us before, because I went to watch at the place where the high school and middle school students were being trained to kill people. The Hutus had begun to stockpile machetes and make plans. Our teachers would tell us that the conflict must continue. They would encourage us to hate each other. Most of these teachers were Hutu.
News of the plane crash was on the radio the evening of April 6th, 1994. Hutu radio stations began to say things like, “Let’s kill the cockroaches, it is time to cut down the tall trees (referring to the Tutsis”. The people on the radio station RTLM would taunt the Ugandan Tutsi and incited and encouraged the violence. Hutus immediately began setting fire to Tutsi houses. All night long from April 6th to 7th Tutsi homes burned in my village. The radio announcers warned everyone to stay in their houses, and the Hutu took advantage of this by burning the houses. The people who could went and hid, but old people and young children were burned in their houses.
On the morning of April 7th, I saw many fires, Tutsi people with mattresses, children crying, people fleeing with their belongings. I told my grandmother what I had seen and she said, “Let’s be ready to move out.” Everything was very crazy, people were all trying to run away, there was smoke everywhere, and I heard people screaming for help. Everyone was running in different directions. Many met at schools or at churches looking for refuge.
My grandmother and other family members and I left our houses to go hide in the church. We believed that no one would kill us in the place of Christ. I was asleep on my grandmother’s lap when the Hutu Killers came to the Catholic Church. My grandmother walked to the front of the church to meet others who were praying near the front of the church. The Hutus threw a grenade into the church. The grenade hit and my grandmother fell. I was behind my grandmother. She fell down and her blood splattered on my clothes. I thought I would die to so I tried to find a way to escape. I went through a window and out away from the church. I ran to a valley that had a lot of tall trees (bamboo reeds). Many people were running and there was no talking everyone was trying to save their lives. The valley had lots of tall trees to be able to hide many people. When we were hidden, Tutsi began to help each other to hide, and escape. My cousin Eric and I found each other in the valley, and we decided to go back to the church after the killers left to see who had died and who was alive. That is when I saw most of my family and relatives die, almost half of my relatives. They had stacked the bodies of my family and relatives, and other dead Tutsi up in front of the church.
After the genocide my life kept getting worse because people who I thought were going to protect me decided to take advantage of my situation and abused me. After a long period of suffering a relative came and took me to go and live with his family. Things changed tremendously, because he and his wife cared about me and wanted to restore my life. They taught me most of the good character that I have now. Being comfortable in my relative’s house helped me to study well for national exam that ends high school. I was able to finish it with good grades. At the same times I was running, striving to get better and hoping to get a scholarship overseas. I got a call from Abilene Christian University asking me to join their track and field program. Speaking very little English, I left the familiar surroundings of my home country and made my way to Abilene, Texas.”
In Abilene, Serge won many awards for his running. He also worked very hard to improve his English skills and graduated with his Bachelors degree in Psychology. He then went on to get his Masters degree in Global Information Technology Leadership and is currently pursuing a second Masters degree in Missions. When I asked Serge how he managed to do all of these things, and with a smile no less, he says that after what he went through during the genocide, everything else seems easy. He isn’t afraid to work hard to achieve his dreams, because he is so thankful to be alive and able to do so.
Serge’s biggest dream right now involves helping the children of Rwanda. He has a vision that involves healing the wounds of the children in need in order to heal the country itself. Even while he was in college, Serge began to lead teams back to his home country to work with children who had been orphaned by the genocide. At that time, he provided tutoring and schooling to children so that they would be able to sit for the national exams in order to attend high school and then college. After the genocide, the country’s schools and educational system were in tatters, and many orphaned children had no support to attend school. Having seen the power of education to change his own life, Serge determined to help as many children as possible get an education.
In November 2010, he founded a health foundation called Ejo Hazaza (http://ejohazaza.blogspot.com/), which when translated means “The Future of Tomorrow”. According to Serge, “The sole objective of the foundation is to provide health services to the needy children of Rwanda. At present, the foundation is providing medical care for more than one thousand children. With donations we are able to set up accounts in local Rwandan hospitals to care for children that the Rwandan government has identified as in need of assistance. Ejo Hazaza therefore encapsulates the spirit of a new nation that seeks to map out a glorious future – with a healthy population based on youth development.”
I asked Serge what motivated him to found Ejo Hazaza, and he explained,
“I am doing this because to me the future is the neglected children of Rwanda who will grow to be the inheritors of a country of opportunity. But, in order for them to see this future, I must help these neglected children by aiding in the provision of their most fundamental of needs: basic medical care.” Serge believes that in order for his country to move forward, the children must be nurtured and cared for. They must have medical care and education.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Serge is currently applying to doctoral programs. He says that his goal in getting a doctorate is to be able to return to his home country and help in establishing a strong government and system there. He explains,
“Based on numerous research findings, the problems besetting sub-Saharan Africa are due to failings in governance and weak policies. My focus is on the latter. According to Health transition in Africa, weaknesses of health policies in sub-Saharan Africa result in disorder in primary care delivery, lack of capitalizing on favorable global policy environment, unstructured approach to improve delivery of primary care, and a lack of feasible strategies to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases. According to Maher et. al (D.Maher, L Smeeth &J Sekajugo, 2010), lack of effective policies is one of the reasons why sub-Saharan Africa has high prevalence of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. I wish to pursue this Ph.D. because it will help equip me with the knowledge required to plan for communicable diseases in the global village of the 21st century.”
Over the years, Serge has faced discouragement from many people. Many think he should stay in the US rather than returning to Rwanda. Many believe that the country cannot be healed, and that Serge is better off staying in the country where he has found so much opportunity. And yet, he can’t stay away from his home. In fact, Serge feels a very strong calling to help make his country a better place, to help his people establish a strong, effective government and systems that support the people. And for him, this all starts with the children. He says, “Children should very much desire to be a leader in their community that will allow them to live for and show Christ’s love to those people so desperately needing love and acceptance.” Serge’s Christian faith is a bedrock of strength for him, and he says that it has given him the power to love all of his countrymen, even those who killed his relatives and tried to kill him. Looking back with the new knowledge that he has attained in his studies, Serge is able to see how the systems within Rwanda nurtured hate and strife rather than unity. He is determined to be a big part of making that different in the future.
Serge believes that children can make a difference in the world, in fact, he’s betting his own future on it. Everything he does is directed at helping the children of Rwanda grow up in strength and safety so that they can create a better future for his country. Serge’s message to children and adolescents, “Fight hard to unite the whole world. The past must teach us but it must not affect us negatively. We as human should continue to love one another for the sake of making a better world for the generation to come to enjoy.”
Serge’s life and story inspire me to move beyond my own small difficulties and look at the world in a different way. His fundamental belief that each of us can work to make big changes in our communities and the larger global community inspires me to think of myself as a world changer. I hope that his story can also inspire you and the children in your life to look for ways, both big and small, that you can make this world a better place.