We're interviewing a woman who has endured some of the most trying conditions imaginable. For more than 90 days, Immaculée Ilibigiza survived certain death during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 only by hiding in a bathroom with seven other women.
Immaculée emerged from a world where atrocities were a daily occurrence with a new relationship to God and her fellow man. She is the author of Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, which she wrote in the hopes that her experience will help everyone who faces unbearable challenges in their life. .
She has devoted her life to sharing the importance of the virtues of understanding and forgiveness. Immaculée is now a member of the United Nations Development Program, and has established the Left To Tell Foundation to help the children of Africa build better lives. Immaculée, it's truly an honor and a privilege to have you as our guest. .
It's also such a great honor to have Dr. Wayne Dyer, the man who has written
some of the most moving books of our time, to conduct this interview. Wayne, I'll
turn it over to you now to invite Immaculée to share her story and her passion.
Wayne Dyer: How are you, my dear?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: I'm good, thank you.
Wayne Dyer: I want to make one thing clear at the beginning here. We're going to conduct this one in English, not Kinyarwanda.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Okay, good! You understand Kinyarwanda anyway!
Wayne Dyer: Every time I can't understand anything she says to me, I always tell Immaculée, "Come on, don't speak Kinyarwanda to me," which is her native language. I give her a hard time about it all the time.
Actually, English is her third language. Her first language is Kinyarwanda. Her second language is French. She literally taught herself English by herself in the bathroom while she was hiding from this horrible genocide that was taking place back at the same time as the O.J. Simpson trial was on.
That's where the world's attention seemed to be-especially America's attention-focused at that time. This little country in Central Africa, which is about the size of the state of Maryland, has approximately 10 million people who live there.
In the course of a 90-day period of time, almost one million of those people where slaughtered. The country is divided into two tribal groups. One is called the Hutus, which represented about 90% of the population. The other is called the Tutsis, which represented about 10% of the population.
There was, literally, a systematic effort at something called ethnic cleansing, a term we don't like to hear about after the Holocaust of World War II and what happened to the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, and so on, back in the Balkans in the late 1990s.
But this was perhaps the worst genocide of all. Immaculée was a young college student. She was in school in Kigali, which is the capital of Rwanda, and she came home for Easter vacation at the urging of her father. I want to fast-forward about 11 or 12 years.
I met Immaculée about a year ago this time. I met her in New York City at a conference that I was speaking at. I knew in just the minute or two when I met her [that I wanted to help her]. I want to make it clear that Immaculée never asked me to write a foreword for her book, which I did, or to help her get it published and all of those things.
I went after her and helped her to see the importance of getting her story out, because she's such a profound, moving woman. I know I'm speaking to you Immaculée, but to the hundreds or thousands of you listening, I really believe in the next hour you're going to be listening to a woman whom I consider to be a saint who walks among us.
She literally lives at a place that I call God-realization. In the presence of the God-realized, the material laws of the world do not apply. So Immaculée, it was 1994. You were 23 or 24 years old. You were a senior in college.
You were studying engineering, you were going to come home, and you were debating about coming home. Why don't you just tell everyone what happened when your father called and what took place.
Let's let people know what this incredible story is that is all detailed in wonderful, personal, beautiful, page-turning depth in a book called Left To Tell, which I encourage everyone out there to read.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: I was in school and I was going home for Easter holiday. My father called me and he wanted me to come. I told him that I wanted to stay in school because I had a really important exam. But I told myself, "Let me go since he's insisting that he doesn't see us because we stay too long in school."
I was living in school. So I went home. On the same day of the Easter holiday, I remember one morning, my brother came to me and gave me the bad news that the president's plane was shot down and he died.
From that minute they started to kill Tutsis, saying that we are the ones who have shot down the plane with the president.
Wayne Dyer: Was the president a Hutu?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: He was a Hutu.
Wayne Dyer: Was there any evidence at all that this was some kind of a conspiracy or that perhaps it had been planned in advance?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Definitely. It was planned because this man, Romeo Dallaire, he wrote a book and he has a documentary. He's a Canadian. He was the head of the UN military in Rwanda.
He had been sending messages to the UN headquarters and to the White House that thousands of machetes had been delivered to Rwanda from China, and they had been planning to kill Tutsis, but they didn't listen to him.
If you go to Rwanda, you will see them in the Memorial places, the same messages he was sending to the UN right before the genocide.
Wayne Dyer: Within hours of the time that the president's plane was shot down-and people were not sure whether the Hutus did it themselves in order to get this genocide going-machetes were being issued in hundreds of thousands to everybody who was Hutu over the age of approximately 14. Is that correct?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: That is right. They started to kill 15 minutes after the plane crashed. Right after, they distributed machetes, they distributed guns to almost all the Hutu families and to boys.
Wayne Dyer: So the killing began. I'm sure a lot of readers saw the movie "Hotel Rwanda." Was the radio what was used to get the entire masses into this frenzy of killing? Is that how they did it?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: It was the radio and the TV. A few people, of course, had a TV at home, but it was the radio, especially because it was ministers of the government. The government was encouraging people to kill. "If you are a good citizen, you have to go and kill Tutsis." It was something that was really a duty [in this time].
Wayne Dyer: So all the Hutus in the country thought it was their duty and their obligation because over the radio, they were hearing their government officials saying, "It is your job to eliminate everybody." Grandmothers, babies-was everyone to be eliminated?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: That's right. I remember one minister who was actually the father of one of my friends, and he was saying openly on the radio, "A snake of a snake is a snake, so we have to go ahead and kill everyone, even children. We cannot wait anymore to kill just a few of them. These are enemies of the country. We have to start with children to old people."
* * * * *
Wayne Dyer: How many students were in your college there at that time?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: We were about 1,500, but most of them had gone for the holiday.
Wayne Dyer: Okay, but how many of them went home, and how many of them stayed?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: About 500 went home and 1,000 stayed at the school.
Wayne Dyer: What happened to the 1,000 who stayed at the school?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: We heard that they killed about 900 Hutu and Tutsi; they didn't care.
Wayne Dyer: They just killed all of the students.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: All of the students who were in the school at that time. They just attacked the residence where we slept, and they just bombed up everything.
Wayne Dyer: How did they kill them?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Most of them, they used grenades and they shot everyone who was coming out.
Wayne Dyer: This was the next day after you left?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: I know. Yes. A few days after I left.
Wayne Dyer: Had you not gone home-even though you didn't want to-you would have been one of those people?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Definitely. All my friends, Hutus and Tutsis, everyone was killed.
* * * * *
There was hatred, of course, between Tutsis and Hutus. You saw people who were discriminative against Tutsis, but somehow I think that people were hiding that kind of hatred inside their hearts. Once they were given the permission, they just acted upon it.
I think that can happen anywhere, especially when the media or the authorities give permission and they tell them no one is going to be punished. Then people just reveal what they have in their hearts.
Wayne Dyer: So if they have hatred in their heart, the possibility of a genocide taking place could happen anywhere. Is that correct?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: That is what I feel. They were people I had lived with all my life.
Wayne Dyer: Wasn't one of your best girlfriends a Hutu?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: My best girlfriend who turned me away, actually, the first day of the genocide.
Wayne Dyer: What did she say to you?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: I went to her, and I was so happy when I met her by the pastor where I was going to hide, and I told her, "Oh, my God, I am coming in your home." And she just looked at me and told me, "You know what? We don't hide Tutsis in my home." And she took her bag and left without even saying goodbye.
Wayne Dyer: And this was your best friend in the world for how long?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: She was my best friend for 20 years. I went with her to primary school when we were eight years old. We were always standing up together. The first time I was confused.
I didn't even know which was my tribe. I remember I used to stand when she stood because she was my friend; I thought she was the same. Actually, the teacher told me, "No, you are Tutsi."
* * * * *
Wayne Dyer: Let's fast-forward now. Day in, day out, day in, day out, and finally, the French come. It's in July. It's now been 90, 91 days, and you are being told that you're going to be able to leave the bathroom the next day. You get out. The others that are in the bathroom survive. You're a very, very, very tiny, minute percentage of the Tutsis who survived because less than 1% of all the Tutsis survived.
All the rest-over 99% of all the Tutsi people-have been slaughtered. You get out, and what is your first day like out of there? You're no longer sleeping in a bathroom. You weigh 65 pounds. What does it feel like to sit down on the ground with every bone exposed? What was that first night like?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: This was the night we came out because it was the French troops who took us from where we were. They had us in a camp. I remember I was sleeping on the ground. It was a paradise, of course, because I was able to sleep having machine guns, guards guarding me so I knew, even if they see me, they're not going to kill me.
Wayne Dyer: So you still had to get to the compound after that, and there was this group of people who were called the Interahamwe, which were really the thugs and the killers. These were the killer groups that allowed no one freedom.
You were 100 yards or so from the entrance to the French camp as this began to unfold, and as this genocide became more evident as to what had happened. You were confronted by a group of Interahamwe and a man with a machete, who was a Hutu.
He recognized you or he saw you there, and you only had a few yards to go before you were going to be free. Tell everybody listening what you did and what happened to him, because I think this is one of the most astounding things that happened in this story.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: We were going actually to the new government, the Hutu and Tutsi moderators who have captured the country. And the French left us in the middle of the killers. Many of them were all around us. They left us right in the middle of the killers.
I told myself, "I'm not going to die today. It has been four months fighting with death. I'm not going to die today. I didn't come here to die." They called me, they called my father to say that I was the only one missing in my family.
The Interahamwe came to me and was looking so angry. His eyes were really angry, and he had a machete. He looked at me. I just faced him up. I said, "I'm not going to look down." I could see he was really pushing me down with his energy inside.
I held my head up. I looked at him also, and I started to call God inside. I said, "I know this person is a human being. I know it is evil that is in him." It was almost like I didn't say a word, but I was pushing out the bad spirit in him.
I was like, "God, help me. This is a beautiful person. He can be okay. He's perfect, he is this." And I was looking at him really straight in the eye, and after two minutes I started to feel like he was dropping his eyes.
I was happy inside. I said, "Yes! God is here. He will work with this. He is stronger than the Devil." And after a few minutes, he looked down, he looked up at me, and I could feel the anger was disappearing. Then he turned back and he dropped his machete on the ground.
* * * * *
Wayne Dyer: When I say that you're inspired, your consciousness expands in every direction. You actually went into the future almost knowing that you had to learn the English language because you were going to be doing interviews such as this.
You were going to be telling people all over the world in a language that you didn't even speak yet. Miracles began to happen for you. And then we met; it was about a year ago in April of last year, of 2005. In just a minute or two, just tell them what has happened since then.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Oh, my gosh. Since then, when we met, Wayne, you know you have been an angel in my life. I remember I still have tell it because of this. When we met, it was three days after I had just finished. I had written my last letter on this book, and I was writing the letters to God, which I still have, asking him, please send me somebody.
Do something for me to publish this book, because I never knew anybody in my life who had written a book. Then when I met you, you were passionate like a brother to my soul, just passionate to help me to publish this book.
After this moment, I still can't believe it, that real angels exist in the world and can just show up and help you out. I can't even believe it. I definitely feel that this experience and the genocide have given me a way of trusting in God and trusting in his work.
And when I met you I knew it is not easy to trust someone you never knew in your life, but there was something like, "Just let it go. This is your time. You have been praying for me to help you. Here I am." And I'll cherish that day for the rest of my life.
Wayne Dyer: I do, too. It's been much more for me than it is for you. So can you just share with the listeners two or three things that they might do in the coming weeks to really apply the lessons that you've shared here with them in this last hour or so. What can the people out there, all of our readers, do now, based upon what you learned?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Definitely say that what they have learned is really what I [still feel] from my experience, to learn, to apply the lessons I have learned. And most of it, really, is that I know whatever you want from God, whatever you want in life, it is possible.
And one thing I have found is that the best way to go there, to find it, to be sure, is to clean your heart, to let go of the unforgiveness and just to love. Then you are able to send love to anybody, everybody in your life. If you can think about the life of another person who has suffered so, they can help you to let go.
Think, for example, about Jesus, our Lord. If you can think of him and see what he went through, then you will see that what you are going through is less than what he did. So then it can help you to forgive. Once you forgive you let go, and you let only love in your heart. Every single thing is possible.
I described how I got a job and how so many things have happened in my life. They would not have happened in the way they did if I did not live this experience. The lesson, really, is that simple, just to clean your heart and to let love be there.
And the rest, God is caring for that. Another thing I want to suggest is that, really, life is short, this life on earth anyways, but there is eternal life if you can only just keep love and remind people you love that you love them because it is short and there is nothing better than telling people.
I wish I had my parents here today. I wish I had my brothers. One thing I would change. I would just remind them more often that I love them. I would forgive them. I would want only the best that they were in my life. I would cherish every moment.
Wayne Dyer: When you were going off to Rwanda, I got two books for you. Once was by Anne Frank, and one, of course, was the classic book about forgiveness and about finding peace in our hearts. What was the comment that Anne Frank made?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: She said, and I actually believe it, she still believed that people are good at heart, and I do definitely, too. We people are struggling to know what makes us happy. People are struggling to do well, and I still think that every one is capable of doing well. Most of the time, I find that people are more at their best when they are appreciated.
Wayne Dyer: So you still believe people are good.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Of course, of course.
Wayne Dyer: And what about Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, which was the other book that I asked you to read?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: One thing I found in that book was that the best way is to find the meaning of everything happening to you. After today, I really feel that I was left to prepare my story. And I tried to find the meaning of me going through what I went through.
Anytime I talked to a crowd and people tell me it has changed their lives, I know my people are not lost. They are in heaven, and I will go at the end. But if I can go through what I went through, if I can still live and go through that pain for life on earth to change for the best, let it be. God knows that I had to go through it because we are on our journey to eternal life.
Wayne Dyer: You quote Viktor Frankl at the beginning of your book, and said "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." If you can't change what's going on around you, then you have to change within you.
Healthy Wealthy nWise believes really strongly in the power of intention-which is a great title for a book; maybe I'll use it-to manifest our destiny. There's another great title. Immaculée, what is your current, most important project, and what intention would you like all of us to hold for you? What's going on now for you, at this time?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: I am just enjoying, really, helping people to let God, to forgive.
Wayne Dyer: You met a woman at one of the audiences you spoke to in, I think it was, Atlanta, who was a Holocaust survivor. What did she say to you?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: She told me-it was two of them, actually, I met there. One of them was an elderly person, she was about 90. She had been waiting to see somebody like me. I don't even know what she meant really, but I know she said, "I wanted to know that this exists so that maybe I can let go, so I can go in peace."
It touched my heart so much. She was crying. She was shaking, and she told me, "I was waiting for you, to see someone like you able to do it, so that maybe I can be at peace. And if I die, then I can die in peace." It was so good.
Another lady who wasn't too old, she told me she was also a Holocaust survivor, and then she told me, "Now I can live in peace. I have been struggling. My parents went through it. And I have been struggling to forgive, to let go, to move on in my life, but now I think I have got my solution, my answer. I am going to live my life." And it just makes you feel so good, so good.
* * * * *
Wayne Dyer: Is there any one, single idea that you think is the most important thing that everybody out there could apply?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Love, love and love. I think the question was asked of Jesus: "What is the greatest commandment?" And I have seen it in reality. I have seen it applied. Really, there is nothing that matters in life more than love, love, love.
Wayne Dyer: And the idea of loving even those who are doing hateful things?
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Yes. You love because you have it in your heart. You don't love because people deserve it. You love because they are human beings, because they are the creations of God. It is love you apply from what you have inside your heart.
Wayne Dyer: So it's really not something that you do then, as much as it's something that you are.
Immaculée Ilibigiza: Definitely. Oh, yes. It is a place of your heart, of flowers in your heart. And you feel them and you just spread it. You don't see what people are doing, because we are not supposed to judge. And when we judge, we do it wrong. You just love, really.
That's one thing I can tell everyone. If you make a decision in your heart, just see if it is coming from a loving heart because most of the time, we make decisions from a heart that is angry, and then we realize that we have made a mistake.
But once you make a decision, just check if you have enough love in your heart, and then you will never regret it.