By Raul Camino
For three months in the middle of 1994, Rwanda, a sovereign state in central-east Africa, was set aflame.
An extremist section of the state’s Hutu population began slaughtering the minority population of Tutsi in early April 1994, blaming them for an increase in the country’s social and political pressures. Even after U.N. involvement, many Tutsi were still murdered in refugee camps and close to 1.5 million people fled the state, according to a PBS Frontline report.
Those who stayed in Rwanda remained on the land of a million dead souls. Those with the opportunity to leave still carried with them reminders of the massacre, but some survivors, like Daniel Trust, went on to dedicate their lives to education, support, and forgiveness.
On the morning of Oct. 15, the meek, svelte man stood in a corner by the stage of NCC’s GenRe forum. He watched people as they walked down the aisles and to their seats, a resting calm on his face. This was Trust, readying himself to speak.
After an introduction by Model U.N. club advisor, Hannah Moeckel-Rieke, Trust sprang onto the stage and opened with an ice-breaker. He roused the audience to participate in a callback greeting in his native tongue of Kinyarwanda, which gathered their attention.
Trust said, “amakuru?” And all together, they responded, “imeze.”
Once the audience settled, the 26-year-old led a conversation about his life’s journey: beginning with his witness of the genocide in his native Rwanda at age 5, to his current successes as founder of an organization that helps young people who contribute to their society.
Trust said, “I did not just happen to become this speaker that travels around speaking. It’s taken a long tough journey to get where I am today.”
Interrupted by a change in venue, Trust and his listeners moved to the PepsiCo Theatre. Once there, he did not take the stage.
Instead of distancing himself, Trust walked the floor of the theatre.
Grasping his mic, Trust unpacked memories of Rwanda.
Trust said, “I remember one day my mom and dad called everybody to their room. They said, we need to pray…because something terrible is about to happen to us.”
Trust’s family hid at a church with others. Then, Hutus came there and took people outside to put them in a circle, where they started killing. Tutsi people were killed right away. Trust recalled the death of his mother. The Hutus threw her in the middle of the circle and beat her to death.
Trust said, “this is an image that has stayed with me for my entire life…witnessing someone that I truly love being killed in front of me.”
His father was murdered trying to hide from the killers. His house, like those of others during the genocide, was raided and set on fire. His two sisters were also killed. Trust managed to survive that day because of a Hutu man who snatched him from the chaos and hid him, along with others.
Trust said that a reason why many people survived the genocide, survived because a Hutu hid them.
Trust then went to live with his brother and his wife. He claimed life was not easy with them, nor at school. Apart from being physically and verbally abused at home, Trust was mistreated at school.
“From the time I was six, till the time I was eleven, I didn’t fit in anywhere,” Trust said.
Through all his struggles, however, Trust always hoped that things would be better.
He finally came to Bridgeport in 2005 with the help of his sister, who arranged the arrival though the International Institute of Connecticut, a center that aids refugees. Once there, he found what the acceptance he had hoped for.
At Bassick High School in Bridgeport, he was involved in different activities, even becoming president of his Sophomore class. Struggles continued, however, at Southern Connecticut State University. Trust became suicidal after coming to terms with being gay, and fearing rejection from the people who loved him most.
“It really bothered me that after everything I had been through…I was being put through another life challenge where my family was going to reject me,” Trust said.
Trust came out in 2010 and faced an intervention from his family. Still, what happened then didn’t stop him from defending himself and the LGBT community.
He said, “There is nothing wrong with me. God loves me…and there is nothing wrong with LGBT people. We are born this way, we are capable, we are smart.”
Trust claims that the kind of prejudice that leads to violence comes from the people who spread hate. So he encouraged the audience to spread love.
“Start spreading love…If you’re in a position of power, where you have a voice, don’t just stand back. If you can stand up for somebody else if you can lift them up, lift them up,” Trust said.
Forgiveness is another quality that Trust felt was important for all people to have.
He admitted that his ability to do so gave him the courage to live without hate.
He said, “I could have chosen to be angry at the world and stand here and blame people…but it’s not gonna help me, so I’ve chosen to let go.”
Trust ended his morning with the audience in a roar of applause. Students afterward had the chance to meet him in person for a one-on-one.
In attendance was Alleyah Dannett, an 18-year-old Journalism major. She had seen Trust speak at the “True Colors” event at UCONN Storrs, and was eager to see him again.
“A lot of his hope and optimism and general ‘light’ is spread through the way that he speaks and the way that he tells a story,” Dannett said.
Moeckel-Rieke, who had a hand in organizing the event, said it was an honor to have Trust speak at the school.
What drew her to Trust, other than his story, was the horror she felt about the Rwandan Genocide, and a need to explore it.
“There’s so much research on the Holocaust and everything, that one would have thought it impossible that something like that could happen again. When I fully understood what [the genocide] was, it really shocked me and I thought ‘this is a topic we should talk about’,” Moeckel-Rieke said.