I respect the faith and things that drive people. I respect people’s religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs. I also understand, that, if there is good in the world, there must be evil.
Rwanda was, and is, Africa’s most recent version of ethnic cleansing. The story below, by Stuart Weir is graphic, brutal, but honest. That the person rose above it, and that his faith persisted, reminds me of the late Simon Weisenthal, the Nazi hunter, who wrote a book called The Sunflower.
That the Commonwealth Games had a moment of silence for the genocide in Rwanda was good, and was important.
Thank you, Stuart Weir.
Merci beaucoup, Dieudonne Disi.
The anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide has been marked at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with a minute’s silence taking place at a beach volleyball match featuring the country’s athletes.
The minute’s silence was held before Charlotte Nzayisenga and Denyse Mutatsimpundu faced New Zealand’s Shaunna Polley and Kelsie Wills in a women’s round robin match in Coolangatta. Both Rwandan players also wore black armbands to commemorate the anniversary. The genocide started on April 7 in 1994, and resulted in an estimated one million Tutsi people being killed, with a further two million believed to have been displaced as refugees.
Several years ago I went to Rwanda to interview a Rwandan athlete. I knew his athletic accomplishments but nothing about his personal background. When I asked him where he had been at the time of the genocide I was quite unprepared for what he told me.
Dieudonne Disi was a world-class half-marathoner with a personal best of just over 60 minutes. Disi grew up in war-torn Rwanda and at age 14 witnessed the killing of his entire family. Yet he still went on to compete in the Olympics.
“When I was growing up there was no television”, he told me,” but I followed the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta on the radio. I thought it was amazing that a Rwandan was able to finish 8th in the world in the 10,000 meters. It was only in the year 2000 that I realized I was good at running. So I decided to try to exploit and maximize my talent.
“In 2004 I took part in the Olympic Games in Athens. I was not expecting to win a medal. Just getting to the Olympics was a big achievement in itself. Because of my lack of experience 17th was the best I could achieve in the Olympic final.”
The following year Disi represented his country in the Francophone Games and took gold in the 10,000 meters and bronze in the 5,000. To understand the magnitude of Disi’s achievement it is necessary to consider the events of 1994 when Rwanda was devastated by genocide. This is the answer he gave to my question about where he was in 1994.
“On my last day with my father, there were eight people in the house–my mother, my father and my brothers and sisters. My father said we were all going to die. He said that he wanted the whole family to pray and prepare to go to heaven. My family started to pray but I went outside and hid in the garden. I heard the rebels knock on the door, it opened. They said something to my family. I understood that it was over. It was death.
“They said, ‘Come out.’ My family came out. They were killing my mother.
I was still alive. After the death of my family I don’t remember much but in the end everyone within 400 meters was dead. I have never forgotten that my father asked me to pray in preparation for heaven. I used to pray every day with my family but when my family died, I stopped praying. For five years I did not pray. A few years later I was asking myself why my family who had prayed was all now dead. Where are they now?
“But I had confidence that my family and friends who perished were in heaven. I realized that if I was ever going to see my family again, I needed to start praying again. The way to see my family again was through prayer.
“In the Bible it says that there is only one way to heaven–Jesus Christ. If you are to get to heaven, it can only be through Jesus Christ. For me Jesus Christ is the way to heaven and the way to God”.
With all his family dead, the 14 year old, Dieudonne Disi ran. He knew roughly the direction of the neighbouring country, Burundi. He ran about 15 miles and lived as a refugee in Burundi. He came back to Rwanda and took a clerical job in the army where his office overlooked a track. He watched soldiers running and started running himself and the rest, as they say, is history.
Disi went on to run in the Olympics twice (17th in 10000m in 2004 and 19th in 2008), in three World Championships (2005-2009), two Commonwealth Games and a World Indoor Championship. He twice won 10000m at the Francophone Games and was sixth in the 2008 World Half Marathon championships.
For someone who lived through what he did in 1994, his achievements are phenomenal.