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Rwandan genocide a closed book for expat

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Apr 25, 2014 - 1:02 PM |
Rwandan and Cambrian College student Serge Kalisa was part of an April 24 panel discussion on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Rwandan and Cambrian College student Serge Kalisa was part of an April 24 panel discussion on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Student 'afraid of the reality of what happened'

Serge Kalisa was only two years old when an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were killed in his home country of Rwanda two decades ago.

But as he grew up in the country's capital, Kigali, his family didn't talk much about the genocide. They'd say “you're pretty young to talk about it and to know what happened, exactly.”

The 22-year-old, who participated in an April 24 panel discussion in Sudbury marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, said the killings were never a topic of conversation among his friends, either.


Much like Canadian kids, they instead talked about their favourite television show or sports, said Kalisa, now an electrical engineering student at Cambrian College and a member of the school's basketball team.

“Growing up, I didn't want to know anything about it,” he said. “It happened. I just was like 'Sorry, I didn't want to know what happened. I don't want to know the details ... I just want to grow up and have my own life.' ”

Kalisa said he probably had this attitude because he was “afraid of the reality of what happened.”

As for what happened to his own family 20 years ago, Kalisa said that's a topic he just doesn't discuss.

“I don't want to talk about it,” he said. “I think it was slowing me down, taking me into darkness. I don't want to be there.”

The panel discussion on the genocide was part of an event put on by Cambrian College at its Open Studio space downtown to mark the 20th anniversary of the killings.

The evening also featured a screening of the feature-length documentary “Rising from the Ashes,” which explores cycling phenom Jock Boyer's efforts to build a national cycling team in Rwanda.

Cambrian College communications officer Mary-Katherine Keown, who has spent time in Rwanda herself, said it's important to raise awareness of the genocide.

She said there are Rwandans living in Sudbury who have been impacted by what happened in the country 20 years ago.

“As a broader issue though, genocide is a crime against humankind and all of us,” Keown said. “We're all indirectly impacted.”
Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer

@heidi_ulrichsen

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