Tuesday, June 19, 2018

DJ travels from Rwanda to Grossmont College to share story

For three years, Olivier Ndacyayisenga, a DJ who lives in Rwanda, has been communicating by Skype with Grossmont College summer students about the culture and heartrending history of his African country. Now, with the help of two faculty members, Olivier will talk in person at Grossmont College about the Rwandan genocide and deliver a simple message: that hope exists even in the face of unthinkable tragedy. 

Olivier will be speaking from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 28 at Grossmont College’s Griffin Gate. The public is invited to the free event, sponsored by Grossmont College's World Arts Culture Committee.

Gabrielle Gosselin's office with Rwandan mementos
Grossmont College CalWorks coordinator and instructor Gabrielle Gosselin met Olivier during a four-year stint as a volunteer relief worker in Rwanda. She collaborated with Lina Kern, coordinator of the college’s Summer Institute Program, to bring Olivier’s story and that of other survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 before the public. As many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, were slaughtered by members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation. In the wake of the three-month genocide, more than 2 million people fled Rwanda to live in refugee camps in Congo, including 9-year-old Olivier, who lost his parents during the brutal months of the upheaval. 

“We heard on the radio that Tutsis were being attacked, but in our worst nightmares, we could not imagine that soon, neighbors that families have known for 20, 30 years would come and kill you and your family,” he said. “We were wrong, very wrong.”

For the past three years, students in the Summer Institute Program have communicated with Olivier by Skype during an annual diversity forum. The summer program assists first-year students make a successful transition from high school to college. 

Olivier, 34, runs his own music entertainment business in Rwanda, providing DJs, sound, lighting and event management for weddings, private parties and nightclubs. 

"I hope that by sharing my story, I can show that there is hope and that it is possible achieve amazing things, even when the past holds a lot of bad things that have happened to you," said Olivier, who described his Skype talks with Grossmont students the best thing that’s ever happened to him.

Gosselin was introduced to Olivier while she was homebound in Rwanda recovering from malaria. Bored, she asked for someone to get her some African music to while the hours away and the person connected her with the DJ. 

“I found him to be incredible with children and vulnerable people and thought how much students in the U.S. could gain from knowing him and his past struggle,” she said. 
She added that many students in the summer institute program come from minority communities and have seen the tougher side of life. 

“We have had students who are former gang members, former foster youth and victims of abuse in my classes connect deeply with Olivier,” she said. “Many of them have called him or connect with him to talk more deeply about his resilience and how he is able to live among neighbors who killed his family members. It is a strong message of forgiveness in their own lives.” 

 The students’ rapt attention during their talks with Oliver didn’t go unnoticed. When students kept asking why he couldn’t come to talk to them in person, Kern started researching what it took to get travel visas and even prepped Olivier for his interview with immigration staff. When he arrives in San Diego June 26 for a month-long stay, it will be his first time leaving Africa.

“It is such a blessing to see the support from the World Arts Culture Committee,” Kern said. “This has been a dream of Gabrielle’s since she began the collaboration. I am so excited for her vision to be coming to life.”

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