Imagine a life with no limbs: no arms, no legs, just a torso. Nick Vujicic is an Australian man with a rare disorder known as tetra-amelia syndrome that meant he was born without any limbs. He recalls how at the age of 10 he tried to commit suicide. Why? Because he had no hope.
Today, Nick is a 29 year old, married man with a baby on the way. From what he once saw as his broken life, he has met 7 presidents around the globe and given talks to audiences as large as 110,000 people. Today he has 30,000 invitations to speak and wherever he goes he talks about the value of life.
As Rwanda remembers 21 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it is indeed the value of life that is central to this commemoration. After so many lives were lost, the scale of the loss cannot be forgotten and nor should it.
It is often said that living your life well is the best response to those that try to destroy you. Rwanda may be one of the best examples of this adage with the rebuilding of a society and of a country that not only defied the odds but exceeded all expectations.
How did Nick defy the odds by going from being a suicide-driven child to achieving arguably more than even a highly talented, able-bodied man would be capable of achieving? In 1990 he was awarded Young Citizen of the Year.
Nick has written 2 books; one since translated into 30 languages and sold close to a million copies. He has been granted the best actor award in a short film and has even done his own music video. To use his own words, Nick says he started “believing in something you do not see, faith”.
Faith is that place you find that lives beyond hope. Faith is the backbone on which Rwanda’s leadership redeemed a nation from the brink of destruction. Faith sees beyond the detractors; of which there are many. Faith in the people of Rwanda and as the President said, their “power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.”
The future, 20-plus years on, has seen the country ranked by the 2014 Gallup Poll as the happiest in Africa. Rwanda is ranked high on physical cleanliness, and even “moral” cleanliness – as measured by the low incidences of corruption. It is an economic miracle, some have said, as well as a standard bearer of gender equality in the political arena with the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world.
Your life is 10% what is done to you and 90% how you react to it. Being in Rwanda, seeing the smiles on people’s faces, their ability to get up every morning and help build the nation despite the burden of history and challenges of a resource constrained nation, was inspiring for me at a time in my life when I had, what appeared to me then, as great personal obstacles.
Or, as Nick has said, how the power of choice lets you either focus on what you don’t have and be angry or on what you do have and becoming thankful. The 90% of how Rwanda has reacted to what was done in 1994 is the miracle of the story of Rwanda.
Yes, there are many problems, and yes it is not smooth sailing all the way. But there are many things for which the people of Rwanda, and the world in looking at Rwanda, can be thankful for.
We can be thankful because in Nick’s TED Talk entitled, “Overcoming Hopelessness”, the universal message is that the “world is a hurting place and the world needs hope and the world needs love”.
The recent tragic and senseless killing of 147 students in Kenya’s Unversity of Garissa is one such example of the many tragedies expereinced in a hurting world. Rwanda can provide that spirit of hope that transcends the tragic loss of innocent lives.
Nick Vujicic, once bullied by childhood classmates, says he believes in miracles because he has seen with his own eyes the blind regain sight and the deaf hearing. He thus keeps a pair of shoes in his closet.
But what is more important is that he believes that even if “you don’t get a miracle, you can still be a miracle for someone else.”
Rwanda has been that miracle for me and perhaps many others. Nick’s most important message in the talk is that the limits that we set are often self imposed because, as he says, “There are no walls. Find your peace and you’ll make your walls [into] doors”.
Twenty-one years later, Rwanda commemorates finding that peace and creating opportunities where there were once obstacles.
Currently based in Rwanda, the writer comments about people, organizations and countries whose stories create a chrysalis for ideas.