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The chance to hear Romeo Dallaire speak is a wonderful opportunity, and the former Canadian general turned award-winning author will be at the Clarke Theatre in Mission on Tuesday.
Now people hang on his every word. He has worked with governments to assist children who have had their lives ravaged by war. He has researched and written about conflict resolution at Harvard.
But Dallaire’s life almost took a much different turn. He was in charge of the UN mission in Rwanda during 1993 and 1994. Although he warned the world that a disaster was coming, Dallaire could not prevent the Hutus from slaughtering more than 850,000 Tutsi people in a world-shaking genocide. Tutsis were rounded up into groups by firearm-carrying Hutus, then hacked to death with machetes.
Dallaire returned to Canada after the disaster, and in 1999 was discharged suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. He attempted suicide on a park bench in Ottawa, deliberately drinking alcohol that would combine dangerously with anti-depressant drugs he was on. Police took him to hospital.
But Dallaire relived the Rwandan experience, and faced his personal demons in writing the novel Shake Hands with the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.
The book won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction in 2004, and has received interrnational acclaim. In 2002, Dallaire was given the prestigious Order of Canada.
Dallaire speaks about moral responsibility, about leadership and conflict resolution.
His message is one that is as relevant today as it was in Rwanda in 1994: If our vision is our self-interest and the advancement of our nations, there should also be a strategic focus on that higher plane called humanity. We are not allowed to abdicate that responsibility, he said.
As a speaker, Dallaire can move audiences to tears and bring them to their feet. He is a Canadian hero, and is will be a pleasure to welcome him to the Fraser Valley.