From Rwanda, a lesson in forgiveness

Ethnic genocide survivor visits Balto. County pupils

November 11, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Dumbarton Middle School pupils got a lesson on ethnic genocide from a Tutsi survivor yesterday.

About 30 astonished members of the school's World Vision Club listened as Rwandan Augustin Ahimana recounted the slaughter of his family -- his mother, sister and brother -- at the hands of Hutu tribesmen.

"The hurt in my heart was so big after the tragedy and it felt so sad, that I felt I had to do something," said Ahimana, who was living in Zaire at the time his family was attacked.

Instead of fighting back, Ahimana avenged his relatives' death by starting a ministry of forgiveness in Rwanda with the help of World Vision, a Seattle-based organization that provides emergency relief, leadership training, education and community development in 92 countries.

Dumbarton's World Vision Club is a charter member of the parent group, which encourages students to raise money for poor youth and their families in the plywood ghettos of Latin America, mud huts of Africa and concrete apartment blocks of Russia.

Pupils at Dumbarton have been raising money -- with lollipop sales, help from parents and teacher volleyball matches -- for a decade. They will be honored as Maryland's 1999 Outstanding Middle School Youth Volunteers by the National Society of Fundraising Executives at an awards event at the Hyatt Inner Harbor on Monday. They will receive a check for $200 to donate to the charity of their choice.

Ahimana's visit to Dumbarton was part of the congratulations by World Vision. But perhaps the best "thank you" came from Ahimana.

"Your kindness, it humbles me," he told pupils.

Ahimana's lesson humbled Dumbarton pupils, in turn.

"If what happened to him happened to me, I would commit suicide," said eighth-grader Tiesha Washington, 13, of Towson.

For Ahimana, reaching out to the same people who slaughtered his family -- and buried some of them in an outdoor toilet -- was difficult. But his heart, and his belief in God, told him it was the right thing to do, he said.

For his wife, Claudine, whose first husband was killed in the genocide, it was unthinkable, Ahimana said.

"She really doubted me," Ahimana told the pupils who sponsor three children -- Yaneth in Bolivia, Kiang in Indonesia and Hemant in India -- with their fund-raising work.

Photos of the children sit on a window sill in Spanish teacher David Williams' classroom so that World Vision club members can see who they are helping. The pupils clearly want to make a difference.

"We have all this stuff like bikes and they don't even have enough food," said seventh-grader Brent Whittington, 12, of Towson.

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