Alumni Profile: Jacqueline Bagwiza Uwizeyimana and Ignace Nikwivuze: Rwanda Remembered

2013-2014 Issue 2
Drinking Sweet Tears original artwork by Jackie Bagwiza. The lake of tears is the young woman’s struggle to overcome adversity. The lake of sweet tears provides water to quench the animals thirst.

Drinking Sweet Tears original artwork by Jackie Bagwiza. The lake of tears is the young woman’s struggle to overcome adversity. The lake of sweet tears provides water to quench the animals thirst.

April 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a tragedy that saw government forces and local militias target the Tutsis ethnic group. To mark this anniversary, two graduates of the intensive Certificate of Proficiency in English Language and Culture, Jacqueline Bagwiza Uwizeyimana and Ignace Nikwivuze, organized a candlelight vigil on the McGill campus.

During the vigil, which is a part of worldwide remembrance that included the lighting of a flame that will burn for 100 days at the national genocide memorial in Kigali, students shared their personal stories about the times surrounding and effected by the genocide, as well as addressing the importance of remembering mass atrocities.

“The event we organized at McGill was all about spreading awareness and trying to warn the world for a better future,” says Nikwivuze, who was a child living in a small town located in the eastern province of Rwanda at the time of the atrocities. “We remember to respect, to honor, to celebrate the death of innocent people, we remember to support the survivors, we remember to value the humanity, our identity. If we don’t remember we lose focus.”

Having long dreamed of studying abroad, Uwizeyimana says her decision to come to Canada to study at McGill was an easy one. As an orphan she was living and studying in the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, which she had to leave upon finishing high school. “Since I had no family except the youth village, coming to study at McGill was in my daily prayer because I grew up believing in the power of education and the only reason for me to live was to get a brighter future.”

Nikwivuze’s decision to come to Canada stemmed from studying the world in elementary school. He believed it to be a “beautiful and peaceful nation,” and he was further inspired by the work of Canadian Lieutenant-General and humanitarian Romeo Dallaire, who at the time of the atrocities was a UN peacekeeper and did much to bring about international awareness of the events and to attempt to stop them. He chose McGill as a conduit in coming to Canada, being “hooked by McGill as one of the leading universities in the world . . . and its diversity.”

He choose the School of Continuing Studies as a starting point in order to gain the language skills needed to succeed at McGill. “I wonder how it would be if I hadn’t done the English course. It shaped my adjustment to a new place because it’s where I made my first friends in Canada. It helped me both culturally, socially and academically.”

Confident Girl original artwork by Jackie Bagwiza. A young woman walking confidently in the direction of her future holds an egg strongly upwards, while struggling against the threads of adversity which try to stop her progress.

Confident Girl original artwork by Jackie Bagwiza. A young woman walking confidently in the direction of her future holds an egg strongly upwards, while struggling against the threads of adversity which try to stop her progress.

“The English Language and Culture program at the School was a very good transition for me in starting a university life,” Uwizeyimana says. “Before I started the program I was afraid that I would not be able to succeed like everyone else at McGill. But because of the Intensive English Program, I succeeded well, and I am able to keep it up. My writing and studying skills have improved so that I have no doubt about my future academic success.”

“As an African young woman, I have a great ambition to share my life experience with many other people, on campus and outside campus, by using all my abilities especially my artistic skills, to prove that it is possible to have a dream and to follow the direction of that dream until it comes true,” says Uwizeyimana, who has gone on to conduct award-winning research on poverty reduction strategies for the Rwamagana District in eastern Rwanda. She says her future goals “are to be a voice for the speechless women especially the young ones like me and to increase awareness of current African women’s life in general anywhere I will be.” In a recent presentation at the School, she stressed the power of art in giving voice to African women, presenting some of her own work as an example.

Both Uwizeyimana and Nikwivuze are currently working on Bachelor’s degrees at McGill, and Nikwivuze similarly hopes to return to Rwanda to work on community development projects when finished at McGill.

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