Fort Leonard Wood welcomed Marie-Christine Williams, author of “The Dark Side of Human Nature” and survivor of the Rwandan Massacre, at the Pershing Community Center Friday.
The event, themed “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence,” was held in observance of Women’s History Month and featured a performance from the Waynesville Women’s Choir.
Williams, who now lives in St. Louis, delivered the keynote speech, sharing scenes from her own life and calling for compassion toward those dealing with trauma.
“If you saw me on the street, you wouldn’t guess my story,” she said. “After years of trying to forget, I am finally ready to tell my story.”
The Rwandan Massacre began when organized ethnic violence broke out between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, Africa. Williams was just 14 years old.
“Rumors swirled that there was going to be an attack against Tutsis — and we were a Tutsi family,” she said. “Then came the news that someone had shot down the president’s plane.”
From there, she said, chaos and acts of brutality let loose.
“A locked door was no protection,” she said. “The extremists brought death into our house. To this day, I can still hear my family screaming.”
About one million people died over the following three months, according to the National Institutes of Health. But after about 100 days, Williams said, soldiers from the Rwandan Political Front came to put an end to the genocide.
“They saved my life,” she said. “One more day, one more hour, and I would have been another lifeless victim.”
Determination and compassion are what helped her escape with her life, she said.
“Every night, I was determined to live to see the sun rise,” she said. “Every day, I relied on the compassion of strangers who risked their lives so that I could live.”
Williams expressed the necessity for anyone currently suffering, no matter the circumstance, to practice these two traits.
“You’re probably not caught in a bloody civil war, but you may be struggling with your own private grief or trauma,” she said. “(Determination) keeps us alive, (compassion) gives us something to live for.”
She added in conclusion that compassion can give people the power to change themselves and their corner of the world for the better.
“To those of you who are suffering, I want you to know that you can survive,” she said.
Chaplain (Capt.) Lelys Miller asked God for grace during the invocation. “We also ask that you heal and restore the women who have been hurt,” she said. “Grant them your favor and comfort.”
Following the event, Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence commanding general, presented certificates of appreciation to Williams and the Waynesville Women’s Choir.