Following an ACES presentation at Buena Vista University Tuesday night, Immaculee Ilibagiza spoke to St. Mary's students on Wednesday morning, delving into how her Catholic faith helped her survive being cramped in a tiny bathroom for three months, and live on following the upheaval of her country and her family's death during the Rwandan genocide 18 years ago.
Two Rwandan seniors at Buena Vista University recalled their own accounts of life during the genocide.
Although she was living in an orphanage in 1994, Sonia Mugabo credits that to her survival.
But at age four, she clearly remembers militants executing a wanted Tutsi man at the orphanage, shooting him in front of her and other children.
"That memory is still very vivid," Mugabo said. "I still have nightmares about it."
Frank Rugaruka was five years old, but had relocated to neighboring Uganda.
Both appreciate Illibagiza's story of hope that is shared across the U.S.
"We don't want to have Rwanda known for its genocide," Mugabo said. "We've come a long way, and are really developing in all the sectors. There's hope for Rwandans now, because through the dark, you'll find light."
"We want the world to learn from what happened," he said. "We're exited about Immaculee---she is a role model who brings a message of peace and forgiveness."
Two seniors from Remsen St. Mary's were moved through Illibagiza's sobering story of faith and perseverance.
"I thought it was very inspiring," said Mackenzie Phillips. "It teaches us how to be forgiving like she was."
After Ilibagiza encouraged students to be grateful for their life and those in it, Paige Harpenau said she would try not to take loved ones or material things for granted.