By Maggie Govender
She spent 3 months in a small room with 7 other women while genocide raged outside….
The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation and the Satyagraha Outstanding Community Service Awards were presented at a well-attended ceremony held at the Durban City Hall on Friday, August 17. The gathering was opened by the Ethekwini Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo. The Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Mtobazana Botha addressed the function and stressed the importance of such events that recognized the contributions of outstanding individuals. Entertainment was provided by choir groups and students from the drama department of the Durban University of Technology.
Mahatma Gandhi International Peace Award
The Mahatma Gandhi International Peace Award is awarded annually in recognition of the peace-making and reconciliation efforts of outstanding personalities from throughout the world. The awardee is decided upon by the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Institute for Non-violence in Memphis, the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation in India and the Gandhi Development Trust in South Africa. All three organisations subscribe to Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence, compassion, love and understanding and believe that these are more urgently needed in the world today than was the case in Gandhi’s time.
The 2007 Mahatma Gandhi Award for Peace and Reconciliation was awarded to Dr Immaculee Illibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Dr Illibagiza, who spent 3 months hiding in a small room with 7 other young women, is the youngest person to receive this award. She was forced into hiding because she was a member of the Tutsi minority tribe that had been singled out for “elimination” by the leaders of the Hutu majority in Rwanda. Her time in hiding was spent primarily in silence and by often going for days without food.
She sought solace in prayer and emerged from her ordeal determined to share the lessons that she had learned about love, forgiveness and peace with the rest of humanity. She has founded and works for the “Left to Tell Charitable Foundation” that assists others to heal from the effects of genocide and war. Her story is remarkable in that she has abandoned hatred and vengeance and has chosen to forgive those who had killed her entire family, friends and village. Ilibagiza is also the Author of a book entitled Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Ilibagiza has been invited to speak to a range of audiences including dignitaries of the world, multinational corporations, churches, and local school children. The importance of her story is recognized and honored with numerous humanitarian awards. Immaculée, now 37, lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.