Marie-Christine Nibagwire, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, had a message for Parker Upper Schoolers when she came to speak on Friday, Nov. 30: You have the power to help people.

In 1994, Marie-Christine came home from work to hear the news that the Rwandan president had been killed in plane crash. She immediately called her closest sister on the telephone, but no one answered her call. A knock soon came at the door and Marie-Christine learned her sister and family had been slaughtered. She wrapped her 3-year-old daughter on her back and ran for their lives.

For the next four years, Marie-Christine and her young daughter wandered on-foot across Africa. They suffered starvation, abuse, rape, and other atrocities while they traveled without documents or money.

“You hid wherever you found room to hide,” said Marie-Christine, as she recounted her story to a wide-eyed audience. “It was horrible. But there are lessons that I want to share with you. I believe we can make a difference together.”

After crossing several countries and searching for a peaceful place to rebuild their lives, Marie-Christine and her daughter eventually sought asylum in the United Kingdom.

“Everything was new but I was grateful to be in a peaceful place to start over with my daughter,” she said.

It was horrible. But there are lessons that I want to share with you. I believe we can make a difference together.

Marie-Christine Nibagwire

Founder, Safe Refuge Rwanda

They felt isolated in the foreign land that would become their new home, unable to understand the language and having no one to talk to about their yearslong struggle to survive. In time, however, her daughter enrolled in school and began building a community of friends.

Marie-Christine also reached out to other refugees living in the UK who had escaped the atrocities of the Rwandan Genocide. Women confided in Marie-Christine the horrors they experienced and, because of cultural norms, were unable to talk about with even their counselors and therapists.

She listened to them, mourned with them, and cried with them.

Recognizing the power of a listening ear, Marie-Christine trained in mentoring and counseling of refugees and now devotes her life to helping survivors. She founded the organization Safe Refuge Rwanda to help survivors restore their lives and dignity, to raise awareness of the plight of refugees, and to prevent future genocides, wars, and conflicts.

Marie-Christine now travels the world speaking at schools and universities to educate and raise awareness. In 2016, she was nominated for the “Women on the Move” award, given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Migrants Organise.

She delivered her message to Parker students about how they can help spread peace in their own communities.  

“You have the power to help people,” she said. “Listen, encourage, give hope, be optimistic, help them be optimistic.”

Parker routinely brings speakers on Campus to speak with students when their presentations connect with curriculum or subjects students are currently learning in their classrooms. Marie-Christine Nibagwire’s visit was an opportunity for Upper School students to hear real-world testimony of events they learn about in their social studies, social justice, global studies, and statecraft classes.