Amazing story of a survivor of the Rwandan genocide

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 30-6-2010

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



Over 1000 people gathered to hear Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculée Ilibagiza, share her heart breaking but yet remarkable story of her journey through the darkness of a genocide.

Gathered at The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle Campus, the audience was silent as Immaculée told them of how in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody holocaust.

Her family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly one million Rwandans. Incredibly, Immaculée survived the slaughter. For 91 days she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor's house. Immaculée entered the bathroom a vibrant, 52 kilo university student with a loving family. She emerged weighing just 29.5 kilos to find her entire family had been brutally murdered (with the exception of one brother who had been studying out of the country).

During her ordeal, Immaculée was filled with anger and resentment about her situation which she says was ‘literally eating her alive and destroying her faith’.

Rather than succumbing to the rage that she felt, Immaculée instead turned to prayer. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the negativity that was building up inside her. Immaculée found solace and peace in prayer and began to pray from the time she opened her eyes in the morning to the time she closed her eyes at night. Through prayer, she eventually found it possible to forgive her tormentors and her family's murderers.

Immaculée told the packed audience that she credits her salvage mostly to prayer and to a set of rosary beads given to her by her devout Catholic father prior to going into hiding.

In her welcome, Vice Chancellor, Celia Hammond said that it was difficult (if not impossible) to truly comprehend the terror, the pain, the deprivation and the horror that Immaculée experienced throughout this time.

“That Immaculée physically survived this ordeal is incredible. However, as incredible as her physical survival is, it is the survival and growth of her faith, her spirit and her inner beauty throughout and after this ordeal which is, quite simply, awe inspiring. Her deep and strong faith and her devotion to prayer has seen her rise above rage, rise above hate, rise above self pity. It has allowed her to forgive and to live a life dictated by love,” she said.

“It is this that makes Immaculée’s story and life so compelling. That she can forgive and love, despite the horrors she has endured, is something which needs to be shared with all of us – and, fortunately for us all, it is one which she is willing to share.

“Immaculée’s observation that if we grow our minds and grow our hearts we can do beautiful things is one which resonates profoundly with our University’s mission.”

Immaculée has received honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Saint John's University, Seton Hall University, Siena College and Walsh University. She has been recognised and honored with numerous humanitarian awards including the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace 2007.

Today she is regarded as one of world's leading speakers on peace, faith, and forgiveness. She has shared her universal message with world dignitaries, school children, multinational corporations, churches, and at many conferences.

Media contact: Michelle Ebbs 08 9433 0610, 0408 959 138