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Rebuilding Rwanda: Young genocide survivors speak at Stetson about struggle and perseverance


Rwandan Genocide survivor Allen Kazarwa speaks to Stetson Law students Sept. 22 in Gulfport.

Rwandan Genocide survivor Allen Kazarwa speaks to Stetson Law students Sept. 22 in Gulfport.

Story by Valeria Obi

On Sept. 22, two surviving victims of the Rwandan Genocide, 26-year-old Noella Abijuru and 20-year-old Allen Kazarwa, spoke to students at Stetson about the massacres that took place in their country in 1994 when they were both still children.

The genocide killed approximately  800,000 people in just 100 days. While the two women remarked on their own experiences with the tragedy, they emphasized to the students the importance of never giving up despite any obstacles that may arise. They said that the process of rebuilding Rwanda happens every day and that there is plenty of hope for the future. While many remember Rwanda for the genocide horrors, Noella and Allen discussed the many positive improvements taking place in their country.

Both Noella and Allen are members of the Akilah Institute for Women. The Akilah Institute is a hospitality school located in Rwanda whose mission is to empower young women to transform their lives so they can become leaders in East Africa.

A Stetson alumna played a pivotal role in establishing the institution. Lisa Shasteen received her LL.M. degree from Stetson and is chairwoman for the Akilah Institute. The Akilah Institute worked with the International Law Society, international law professor Luz Nagle and alumna Ivette Silva in Stetson’s International Programs Office to bring the two women to the Gulfport campus to share their inspiring stories.

“The two young ladies were an inspiration for all young people who have ever faced a difficult situation at some point in their lives,” said student Francisco Garcia, secretary of the International Law Society. “Their stories personified the insurmountable power behind human perseverance and provided us all with the hope for a more peaceful Africa.”   

Student Dawn Hunter said, “It’s so important for everyone to know the lasting effects of the genocide, but it is just as important to see the lasting positive impact of these women on Rwandan culture.”

The Akilah Institute, along with Noella and Allen, will remain in the U.S. for two more months attending fundraising and speaking events. According to Elizabeth Dearborn Davis, co-founder and CEO of the Akilah Institute, they hope to “continue bringing empowerment messages to everyone throughout the world.”