July 27, 2018

Genocide survivor who learned to forgive inspires teen to plan special day for youths

Inspired by the life and commitment to forgiveness of Kizito Kalima, right, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 16-year-old Olivia Julian held a soccer clinic at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis on June 29 for youths and children who were born in the refugee camps of that African country. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Inspired by the life and commitment to forgiveness of Kizito Kalima, right, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 16-year-old Olivia Julian held a soccer clinic at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis on June 29 for youths and children who were born in the refugee camps of that African country. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The game has stopped for a moment, but the smiles continue as everyone pauses for a group photo on this sun‑splashed summer morning.

Standing side by side, from different backgrounds and different worlds, the 21 individuals combine to provide another intriguing snapshot of the promise and the possibility that is the United States.

There are the 14 children and youths who were born in the refugee camps of the African country of Rwanda—the sons and daughters of parents who want a better life for their children.

There are the five students from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis—friends and teammates who have set aside this time to share a morning of fun and play with the 14 children and youths.

There’s the college student with her arm draped around the shoulders of one of the youths, both of them smiling in a way that seems to show they don’t dwell on the difference between the colors of their skin.

And there’s the towering figure of a man who has lived the horror of his parents being murdered, leaving him an orphan at 14—a man who has made it his mission to promote peace, forgiveness and reconciliation as a way of life.

All of them are together on this morning of June 29 for a clinic on soccer. In many ways, it’s also a clinic on hope.

A story of devastation and survival

The clinic is the inspiration of Olivia Julian, a 16-year-old member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis who has been inspired by the life and purpose of 39-year-old Kizito Kalima—the towering man who was cut in the head with a machete and left for dead when he was a teenager.

Their paths first crossed when Kalima was invited to share his life story with a class at Bishop Chatard High School. Olivia listened in awe as Kalima detailed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority killed about 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority, during a three-month period.

Kalima’s parents were killed in the massacre. He was left for dead in a ditch overflowing with bodies as blood gushed from his head.

His family and his home destroyed, he lived in swamps, a refugee camp and an orphanage for a few years—always finding a way to survive until a basketball coach saw him playing the game in a park. When Kalima’s height and athletic ability made him stand out among the other players, the coach enrolled Kalima in a boarding school in return for playing for his team. And Kalima’s size and talent eventually drew the interest of scouts for colleges in the United States.

Listening to Kalima’s story of devastation and survival, Olivia was overwhelmed.

“It was really amazing he went through all that,” she says. “It’s amazing he’s here now.”

Yet those details weren’t the part of the story that stunned her the most.

‘Forgiveness is the only way’

When Kalima came to America, injuries soon derailed his playing career. Still, he became another remarkable chapter of the American dream when he eventually graduated with a criminal justice degree from Indiana University in South Bend in 2005.

At the same time, the nightmare of the genocide in Rwanda continued to haunt him.

“I was depressed, angry and traumatized,” he recalls. “A lot of my friends were still bitter. I wanted to find a solution for my anger and trauma. I wanted revenge on the people who killed my family.”

Yet Kalima also began to understand that his anger just resulted in the killers “holding me psychologically hostage from Africa.”

He began to talk about the experience of the genocide, and shared his stories with groups. He also focused on the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

“I found those people forgave those who did them wrong,” he says. “I found it worked for me, too.”

He started the Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and opened its office in Indianapolis in 2016. The center hopes to help people and communities who are struggling with injustice and anger by promoting forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

“It’s to be in charge of your own life,” says Kalima, who is married and a father of three, including two adopted children, now in their 20s, who were also orphans of the genocide. “I want to help people stop surviving and start living.

“For me and people like me, forgiveness is the only way to move forward. No matter how many people they put in prison, they will never bring back my parents or my childhood. Once you forgive, you can reconcile and live in peace.”

That message stunned Olivia.

“It was amazing that he could forgive them,” she said in a conversation two days before the soccer clinic. “I wondered if I would be able to do the same if I was in that situation. It’s had an impact on my life.”

‘We have some laughs’

The idea for the soccer clinic grew out of Olivia’s involvement at the Peace Center during the past school year.

When she wasn’t playing soccer or lacrosse for Bishop Chatard, she volunteered weekly during the center’s after-school program, helping some of the 300 children and youths who come there every month, many of whom were born in refugee camps in Rwanda and Burundi.

“They’re really good kids,” Olivia says. “I help them with reading comprehension and with their homework. We do spelling lessons. They all get excited when they get a word right. We have some laughs.

“When I mentioned soccer to them, they got excited. The majority of them love soccer. I thought it would be good to do a clinic for them.”

She enlisted the help of her good friend and fellow junior-to-be, Molly Grant, and three of her soccer teammates at Bishop Chatard: Hannah Chapman, Abby Klineman and Elizabeth Jacobson. Olivia also had help from Gabby Douglas, a Butler University student who is an intern at the Peace Center.

The clinic takes place on the expansive field of Bishop Chatard’s multi-sport stadium, and the morning is filled with drills, games, drinks, snacks, smiles and fun.

“We usually play in a smaller park, and there’s more people here,” says 16-year-old Patrick Ngoga, beaming. “So this is fun.”

Seventeen-year-old Kevine Mumporeze also smiles as she says, “This is my first time to play soccer. This is really fun and interesting.”

‘This gives them hope’

Kalima watches it all from the sidelines, savoring the connections being made between two groups of young people from different backgrounds.

“It’s good for her as a teenager to do this,” he says about Olivia. “It’s inspiring. It’s good for the kids, too. They’re Congolese. All of them were born in refugee camps.

“It helps them learn from different cultures and races. It shows them it’s good to come to America. They come from rough neighborhoods. This gives them hope that there is something better than where they live.”

He looks out on the field where the youths are running, kicking, smiling and laughing.

“I’m always trying to encourage them, to let everyone know they’re equal,” he continues. “They still feel they’re outsiders. I try to help them with their confidence. Being young, they have that on their side. I tell them this is the time to learn and make mistakes. I tell them to keep a little bit of their accent. You want them to keep some of their heritage. That’s their identity.”

The experience of being involved with the Peace Center has also left its impact on Olivia’s identity.

“Every time I’m there, I think of K’s story and how he forgives,” she says. “It makes me try to be more forgiving. It makes me feel really good to help the kids. My relationship with God has grown helping at the center. I’ve thought about my relationship with God more. Instead of going through the motions at church, I think about what I’m doing. I pray more now.

“I feel I’m living my faith by doing this. Just by helping others, no matter how small it is, it helps.”

It’s all part of a clinic on hope. †

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