The Rwandan Reunion: A Peacekeeper’s Story

Canadian and UN flags
Canadian and United Nations flags fly over Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: DND Archives

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by Jesse Richardson, Assistant Communications Officer, Veterans Affairs Canada

As the 10th anniversary of National Peacekeepers’ Day approaches on August 9, it’s important to reflect upon the achievements and sacrifices our soldiers have made to help the United Nations become a champion for peace and stability around the world. It’s worth noting that these peacekeepers share a different perspective than wartime soldiers. They put their lives on the line for someone else’s country, to protect the sovereignty of others and help democracy flourish wherever it has—or may grow—roots.

As a founding member of the UN, Canada has participated in many peacekeeping and peacemaking missions between its creation in 1945 and the present. Our soldiers have served all over the world, from the jungles of Cambodia, to the Gaza Strip in Egypt, to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and more. Four hundred of them were also dispatched to Rwanda in 1994 during one of the worst genocides in recent history—the massacre of Tutsi citizens by their neighbouring tribe, the Hutu.

Putting yourself in the boots of those Canadian soldiers, who were some of the first support troops to arrive in the embattled African country in 1993 and saw the worst of the violence first-hand, is nothing short of impossible. Images of starving children, unspeakable brutality, minimal resources and crippling guilt are what we often read about. However, a recent article written by CBC journalist, Stu Mills, entitled Lost and Found, offers a modern take on the current state of Rwanda by connecting the past to the present with the real-life story of two individuals. Mills chronicles the reunion of Sammy Sampson, a corporal serving the UN in Lake Kivu at the time, and Sammy Tuyishime, a Rwandan local that Sampson saved during the conflict who is now a successful businessman living in the country’s capital city, Kigali.

Like many of the Canadians who served in missions attempting to check conflicts in far-away lands, Sampson carried extreme feelings of guilt back home with him after leaving the warzone in Rwanda behind. This is too often the burden that peacekeepers everywhere have to bear and a special circumstance of their situation as third party participants in military clashes and humanitarian efforts. How do you engage in a mission centred on bettering the lives of an entire population just to leave before you see a real difference being made? As we’ve seen in places like South Korea, change is a seed that takes time to grow. For these soldiers, going back is not easy—but as we see from Sammy’s story, it can be worth it. The UN is now seeing the fruits of its labour flourish some years later. Rwanda is peaceful and economically on the rise while South Korea is a fully-fledged and bustling democracy.

These examples give the world hopeful aspirations for the future of places where turmoil still exists because Canadians and other UN members will continue to do their part whenever and wherever they’re needed. Our peacekeepers are akin to Canadian ambassadors to the third world. They demonstrate our country’s commitment to preserving the freedom and well-being of the international community to which we all belong. It’s a rare but special occasion when a soldier like Sammy Sampson can be reminded of the good work he and his fellow soldiers have done mirrored in the success of a survivor like Sammy Tuyishime.

This August 9 on National Peacekeepers’ Day, remember the Canadians who served, those who still serve, and—if you have the chance—remind them of the good they’ve done in helping to create opportunity for the people who needed them.

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