The Peacebuilder

Daniel Trust is a Rwandan genocide survivor, an internationally recognized motivational speaker, and an advocate for refugee, low-income and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth. Daniel Trust delivers keynote speeches at middle and high schools, universities, corporations and conferences around the world. His speaking topics and areas of expertise include surviving the Rwandan genocide, advocacy for low-income, refugee and LGBT youth, youth development, college and career success, social entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Daniel is the Founder and CEO of the Daniel Trust Foundation, a US-based nonprofit organization that invests in and supports low-income students with their educational and professional goals. Here is Daniel’s story:

My mother was Tutsi and my father was Hutu, so she was from the minority tribe, the one that was being killed. The whole thing started when the then President, who was Hutu, and was assassinated – and the Hutus found an excuse to massacre the Tutsis. People say that this whole thing was planned way ahead of time – and one theory is that the Hutus themselves killed the President to find a justification to murder the Tutsis.

Together, my parents had eight kids. Because my mom was Tutsi, we were seen as Tutsis. My father was also killed. I remember we went into hiding with other families, hiding in the church. One day, the killers came to the church and took everyone outside and started killing everyone. My mother was one of them. My father was also eventually caught and killed. The killers also killed two of my sisters, their sixth and seventh children. They went to our house, and then set our house on fire to make us suffer even more. I was only five years old, and it was crazy.

My parents died, and I was lucky enough to survive. Not all the Hutus were killers. There are many people who survived because of Hutu support. They were compassionate and saved many of us who survived. I was then at someone else’s house, and eventually went to the DR Congo. After the war ended, it was not easy – but I came back to Rwanda, and I was about six. It was not easy there, either. I was harassed because I was flamboyant. They would call me names, and it would constantly hurt me. I  used to constantly get beaten – no matter what I did. If I was washing dishes and didn’t do it correctly, I was whipped. If I didn’t do my homework well, I was whipped. If I was sweeping and they didn’t think it was good enough, I was whipped. It was not easy to be in this place. I was constantly getting beaten.

I was whipped for everything. I was so traumatized with everything. Just witnessing my parents die and facing all this was not easy. As a result of all this, I did very poorly at school. From the time I was ten or eleven, because of all the experiences I had, I was traumatized. But now, the thing I am very grateful for is that the higher powers up there have given me all the strength and faith in humanity, to the effect that things are going to be okay.

I started praying, praying for nature to come and take me to where I would not be beaten and someone would help to do my homework, and have friends, and just be a kid.

I have two sisters who live in the US with me here. One of my sisters who came to the US as a refugee, and her husband who was in the Congo, took me to the US to be with her. Getting here, coming to the states is not easy. There are a lot of procedures and processes – and it is very complicated. I first lived in Zambia for four years, where I learned to speak English. It was very tough. We didn’t have family there, and we lived in a very tiny apartment. I went to bed without eating many times. My prayers to not be abused were answered and new challenges presented themselves. When you have such experiences, you start questioning – why, why, why? In my case, I wondered why I wasn’t killed in the genocide so I wouldn’t have to suffer. I would pray again and make peace with it, and say it was going to be okay.

In 2005, I got my papers to come to the states. The first three years were very tough. My English was too shaky and the education system here was very different. In the first fifteen years of my life, I hadn’t had any good education. In sophomore year and junior year, I was doing well, though freshman year was tough. As long as I worked hard and proved myself, I was taken care of. I graduated in 2008 from High School. I started playing sports for the very first time, and became the vice president of the senior class. I was given the opportunity, and had so many resources here, and I had to take advantage of it. The thing, though, is that a lot of people here think they have it tough, but they truly have no idea how tough it can get.

I went to college at the Local State University in Connecticut, and my family was not from a wealthy background. I had to support myself through college. I went to school full time and work full time. It was not easy, but I did it. I graduated in Business in 2013, and worked in banking throughout college, so by the time I graduated, I was one of the managers at a big branch. I had learned a lot working at the bank. I am so determined to do a lot of things.

In 2014, I quit my job and focused on speaking full time since I was already giving a lot of motivational talks, and focused on building my foundation. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and now, this is our fourth year with the foundation. It’s working, but it is not easy. Here I am, working at the Daniel Trust. When I am given the opportunity, I travel to speak. I spend a lot of my time at the foundation, where we mentor young people from disadvantaged communities. We give them resources and support they need. We provide tutoring for their tests at no cost – which are otherwise expensive. We also offer mentorships for scholarship recipients who get $2000. Textbooks are very expensive here, kids spend about $1000-1200 a year on text books – and they use it only for a semester, and that’s a lot to spend!

Many kids come here from different countries and have no assistance, or, they were born here and are from economically backward communities. We guide them. We started a program with eight kids, and today, we have about 42 kids in our scholarship program. That year, we gave our $4000, this year, we’re giving $20,000. We ask our students to honour their teachers who have made a difference in their lives. The reason I do that is because I had a wonderful teacher who showed me care and loved me, and gave me so much guidance – that in her name, I offer the award. We are growing slowly, and we are trying to make an impact.

One of my messages to young people is, don’t let your past prevent you from achieving your dreams. You can always make a difference and impact other people’s lives. 
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