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‘You remember having only fear’

Johnson City Press 

MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Old hatreds erupting into violence killed Damas Dukundane’s family when he was 11.

Those vicious hatreds also killed about 1 million other Rwandans when genocide swept through that country for three horrific months in 1994.

That experience shaped Dukundane’s life and personality, but not to seek vengeance. He decided to become a doctor to help his fellow Rwandans. But in 1994, he first had to live through massacres, fear, hunger and discrimination.

Now 25, he told his story of survival and the direction he wants to take his life to Milligan College students Tuesday morning in Seeger Chapel.

“The story of genocide, I just summarize it in a miracle,” Dukundane said shortly before speaking to the crowd Tuesday. ered there for support.

“The people who were staying in the church at that time, they got killed the next morning,” Dukundane said. He saw their bodies the next day. Grenades were used, Dukundane said. He said people were sleeping in the building when they exploded.

Dukundane fled to the countryside but had to return for food. He was caught and nearly killed several times. In fact, once he was left for dead among a pile of bodies. At some point he was placed in a room where he tried to hide. He could hear clearly the screams of those slaughtered by gunshots and machete blades.

Dukundane eventually made his way to a health center, where he was fed, cleaned, treated for injuries and given a warm bed to sleep in. At some point he was transferred to a military camp led by the Tutsi. He left there and chose to go on to school instead of becoming a fighter.

Now he is spending three “The whole thing was having this killing fear that you’re going to die. That’s it. Eleven years old, you don’t think about defending yourself. You don’t think about anything else. You remember having only fear.”

The killing in Rwanda began almost immediately after its president died in a plane crash. Accusations were made that the country’s minority Tutsi population was responsible for the crash. An extremist faction of the majority Hutu population began killing the Tutsi, claiming it was to purge the enemy from within the state.

The tension between these two socio-economic groups had been fomenting since the days of European colonization. When the Germans and later the Belgians administered Rwanda, distinctions were made between the Tutsi and Hutu.

The first killings Dukundane knew of happened in a church. A large community of Tutsi had gath- months at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Pennsylvania before returning to Rwanda. Milligan had a student who knew Dukundane from a trip to Rwanda and when the school realized he was in the country, he was asked to speak.

Leah Anderson, a Milligan senior majoring in humanities and biology, said Dukundane’s story was amazing.

“It was better than anything (about Rwanda she has seen),” Anderson said. “I mean, you could do a CNN special on him. It was awesome. He has very powerful words.”

She said the fear that must have gripped Dukundane as an 11-year-old while horror was unfolding around him must have been terrible.

Anderson has been reading about Rwanda and the genocide that occurred there. She said at the time Rwanda was considered one of the most Christian nations in that section of Africa.

“Christianity had been growing,” Anderson said. “And that scares me the most. Because if during that time Christianity was growing and something like a whole genocide could erupt it makes me scared for America.”

But she thinks Dukundane is an amazing person to have lost all his family and still maintain his faith in God and even decide to pursue a career as a doctor to help his community in Rwanda.

Dukundane said part of living through a genocide is realizing a differentiation between before the killings and after. He said his country is progressing, and people are having to help each other in areas where families once did.

“Things are getting better,” he said. “Not perfect, but better. I think it’s harder … and it would not be fair, to think that after 14 years things would totally get better. And also there are some things in life that are not reversible. We are trying to move forward and think for the future.”

Thinking for the future is probably the main theme in Dukundane’s tale of survival.

“I don’t have a particular thing that I want people to get from what I’m saying but I want people to know, and then it’s up to them to decide how to just use my story in their lives,” Dukundane said. “I wish they could use it in a good way because there is always two faces to everything. Every single thing has two sides.”

Johnson City Press Article


MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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