Meet Consolee Nishimwe

Meet Consolee Nishimwe

Meet Consolee Nishimwe:

A Rwandan Genocide Survivor who dedicated her life to changing the world, one speech at a time.

As an intern at the Wagner College Holocaust Center, one of my assignments this summer was to read Consolee Nishimwe’s book Tested to the Limit ( 2012). Her story touched me in various ways- whether it was her family’s strong bond, her courage, or her strength to be able to forgive those that destroyed the lives of too many children. While reading her book, many times I found myself wondering how Consolee was able to go forward, even after being betrayed many times by those she considered close friends. Her hope to survive and have a life again with her family was what pushed her forward.

She says:

“My lesson to all is that no matter what horrible circumstance we may face in our lives, we must never lose hope, for losing hope is the beginning of our own self defeat.

I feel that there is something everyone can take away from her experience. Consolee Nishimwe was just 14 years old when the genocide in Rwanda against the minority Tutsi began in 1994. She experienced the growing discrimination prior to the genocide and the cruelty of people during. As you may know, over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during this tragic 100 day period 23 years ago.  Despite intensive media coverage, no government including the U.S. government chose to intervene and stop the killings. This raises questions about how and whether the global community should be responsible for tragedies in other parts of the world.  Why don’t we learn about this or other genocides, and the indifference of the world in schools?

Consolee Nishimwe was kind enough to come speak at the Wagner College for a second time- this time giving an inspiring speech to the Port Richmond Partnership Leadership Academy (PRPLA) students. Since many genocides go unmentioned for reasons I can’t understand, I feel it was very eye opening to learn about the Rwandan Genocide which only took place 24 years ago.

As a student I really wish schools talked about more than just the Holocaust. How are we supposed to prevent other genocides, if we only know of one? It is very saddening that after promising “Never again.” after every genocide, the UN continues to stay useless in such scenarios. When I watched documentaries where UN troops were ordered to only save American and white citizens from Rwanda and provide no aid to the Tutsi victims, I was disappointed on levels I did not know were possible. The Holocaust Center, despite the name, has been very successful at making sure young people don’t only see one genocide, nor only one side of a story.

Hearing someone speak of all the pain they have gone through really touches you; especially when the reason for such discrimination was caused by something they have no control over. During the days of colonization, Belgians favored the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority. So, they used separation as a strategy to make sure the Tutsis and the Hutus don’t unite against Belgium. This caused tension and hatred between the Tutsis and the Hutus. Unfortunately, this tension continued long after the end of colonization. Extremist Hutus referred to Tutsis as ‘cockroaches’ and were very harsh against them. So, the government was now led by Hutus and many Tutsis were kicked out of the country.

This led to the formation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi rebel group who led guerilla attacks in various parts of the country. President Habyarimana negotiated the Arusha Accords (a peace treaty) on August 4, 1993 which ended the 3-year civil war in Rwanda. Unfortunately the cease-fire ended when President Habyarimana's plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. This set start to the genocide against the Tutsis; which resulted in the death of 800,000-1,000,000 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days.

But now, if you ask a random person about the Rwandan Genocide, what is the chance that they know its name, let alone its story? On the other hand, if we were to ask them about the Holocaust there is a good chance they have at least heard of it. We can’t unite and be vocal about topics we don’t know. Not only should we learn about more genocides, but also the reaction- or rather the lack of reaction from the global community as well.

  • Zeynep Akpinar, a rising junior at Staten Island Technical High School, had the opportunity to work at the Wagner College Holocaust Center in Summer 2017. Her position was funded by the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) overseen by United Activities Unlimited on Staten Island). She has worked with Prof. Lori Weintrob on various projects including transcribing testimony of Holocaust survivors to creating lesson plans on the Rwandan Genocide.