Oct 8, 2013
06:56 PMThe Connecticut Story
Rwandan Genocide Survivor and LGBT Advocate Holding Guilford Fundraiser
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“Minutes before she was murdered in a church where the family had sought refuge from machete-wielding Hutus, Ndamwizeye held his mother’s hand—and felt all the security that personal touch brings, especially at the age of 5,” the story says.
“It’s the memory that flashes back like it happened yesterday," Ndamwizeye said of his mother’s slaying, the story continues. “I never understood the whole thing and I still don't understand … . Sometimes I asked myself why I was saved, and I never get to an answer. It’s just that God saved me from that place, because they could have killed me.”
The fact that he lived—especially amid the magnitude and horror of the genocide—made him a survivor on multiple levels.
“I pretty much grew up with my brother and his wife,” Ndamwizeye recalled of what happened next, going on to recount his journey, first to Zambia in 2001 with the husband of one of his sisters, and then, at age 15 in 2005, to the U.S.
“When he was coming to the states,” Ndamwizeye said of that brother-in-law, “he said he would bring me with him. This is something I’d always dreamed about.”
When he went to Zambia as a refugee, Ndamwizeye didn’t know how to speak any English, and was in a foreign place where he didn’t know anyone.
A dozen years later, he’s a college graduate with a good job who not only speaks English fluently but is very articulate, is building a career as a motivational speaker, and is digitally savvy and versed in social media—but most of all is committed to using his life and story as the foundation for giving back and making a difference.
“When I came here, everything just happened,” Ndamwizeye said of America, admitting that it was a lot of work. In the U.S., though, there was a return of familial support, and values, in part because a sister was already here—having come as a refugee—and because he found a much larger family among the teachers and students at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, and then at SCSU.
He graduated from Bassick in 2008, where, according to his website bio, he was his senior class vice president, captain of the volleyball and cross-country teams, and a member of the Yearbook Club, Key Club, National Honor Society and bowling team. At Bassick, he earned MVP awards for volleyball and cross-country, and a sportsmanship award for volleyball, the bio says, adding that he was the Male Athlete of Year, and voted Most Likely to Succeed, Teacher’s Pet and Best Dressed at his senior banquet.
Ndamwizeye graduated last May from SCSU with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, with a concentration in business management.
By that point, the future path of inspiring others and giving back was already clear for Ndamwizeye, who says, “It’s just amazing how life rolls out.”
The foundation actually began to take shape in 2009, when he was a freshman in college. Someone with a refined sense of style—he even has a style blog—Ndamwizeye recalled designing “stop homophobia” T-shirts. “I started selling them to my friends on campus,” with 10 percent of money from sale of the T-shirts going to support challenged kids he was sponsoring as part of his nascent business with a social conscience.
The initiative succeeded so well that people started requesting the T-shirts, and the business that spawned the foundation became a thriving enterprise even as Ndamwizeye was going to school full-time and already working at TD Bank.
Meanwhile, Ndamwizeye also began to emerge as a motivational speaker, not just for his story of surviving the Rwandan genocide but also for “how I had the guts to come out to my family” and “accept myself for who I am.”
The speaking engagements—with requests eventually coming from such major colleges as the University of Florida and University of Connecticut—began when a social studies teacher at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, whose curriculum covered the genocide and the Holocaust, asked him to share his story with students.
“There were like 400 kids in the auditorium,” he recalled. His presentation drew a great response from students and teachers. He went on to be the keynote speaker at a University of New Haven student leadership event, and then True Colors, a Hartford area nonprofit, invited him for a conference with 3,000 kids. “So that was huge,” he said, adding, “The more my story has been out there, the more people have been asking me to speak.”