Last evening, April 27th, it was a pleasure to see my dear friend, Jean Paul Samputu, and the newly restructured Rwandan musical group, Ingeli, perform at UNH. The Strafford Room at the MUB was nearly full as the audience was treated to traditional Rwandan music, drumming, and dancing along with original compositions by Jean Paul. It didn't take long for many audience members to get onto their feet, move to the front of the room, and DANCE!!!!! I was also delighted that two of my former students, Rachel and Kara, were instrumental in organizing this event...awesome!!!
I'm always tremendously moved by hearing and seeing Jean Paul and others who perform with him. He is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide 15 years ago, although he lost his parents and several siblings in the atrocity. He is also a survivor of the aftermath of the genocide, struggling for years with alcohol and drugs as he fought with himself and the world to come to terms with the loss of family and the destruction of his country. When I first met Jean Paul several years ago, I was immediately swept up by the spirit and energy of his music. But even more unforgettable is the conversation I had with him after his performance when he shared his story of recovery with me and told me how he has forgiven all the perpetrators of the killing of his family members. It was inconceivable to me that he could open his heart so fully that he could forgive the people who brutally murdered people he loved. I knew immediately this was a person I wanted to get to know more about and I felt a special connection with him that is rare.
Over the years since I met Jean Paul, I have been so privileged to have opportunities to not only work with him, but to spend time talking with him and becoming his friend, and he mine. He and some of the other performers he's worked with have stayed in my home a few times and brought memorable events with them....I will always remember Jean Paul's impromptu musical composition of "Deborah's Cats" (at the time I had six of them) inspired by his wife's fear of them while staying with me. In fact, when I saw Jean Paul last night, he asked about the cats!
Jean Paul's ability to forgive and his belief in the power of forgiveness inspires not only me, but many, many other people. Jean Paul travels the world performing his music and speaking about forgiveness, peace, and reconcilliation. Last night as he spoke about his own forgiveness of the man, a neighbor of his family, who murdered his parents, the room was very still as we all absorbed the power of his actions and words. He then went on to tell us that he now works with this man as well.
Jean Paul works tirelessly to spread the word about the power of forgiveness and to bringhope to others. He also has established a foundation, the Mizero Foundation (www.mizerochilren.org) to help children who have been orphaned by the genocide - lost parents during the killings or due to HIV/AIDS infection - by getting them off the streets, helping build schools, etc. A group of these children have been trained in the traditions of Rwandan music, dance, and drumming, and tour the United States periodically. As a result of his important work, the United Nations has named him an Ambassador for Peace.
Jean Paul has once again brought together a group of Rwandan musicians, Ingeli, which is now touring the United States. Through this group, as well, Jean Paul continues to reach out to others to share the message of hope and reconcillation through music.
Seeing, hearing, talking with Jean Paul always leaves me with much to think about. He always leaves me at peace and re-energizes me personally and with my work. Hate...fear...anger...they're all destructive. So much of that comes from lack of understanding and being influenced by others who harbor these feelings. Again, so much education is needed to help address the challenges we face around us and so much good is done when it's done face-to-face and we get to know those we fear and hate. Jean Paul is doing remarkable work. I know first-hand the impact he has on people...not just me...I've seen him with teens, very young children, adults, young adults...and no one is left untouched by his message.
"Forgiveness is the most powerful weapon against terrorism and atrocity." Jean Paul Samputu
merci beaucoup, mon ami, Jean Paul!