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A Trip to Africa that Changed His Life

First-year student Matthew Leady came to Willamette because of a trip he took to Rwanda. It was a profoundly moving visit, one that bore no resemblance to the two years he lived in Zaire when he was a boy. That time in his life was idyllic — floating the headwaters of the Nile, listening to lions roar as he fell asleep in the wild. The trip to Rwanda, which he took between bartending gigs, changed the course of his life. Parts of it were harrowing. Here, in his own words, is how Leady describes it:

We visited a genocide memorial. They had exhumed a mass g rave. The government told the ethnic minority to gather on a hill to be safe. Then 8,000 to 10,000 Tutsis were massacred. There were three survivors; one gives you a tour through the remains.

It’s as graphic as you can get. They had a baby room. You could see the boot marks on the babies; they’d been stomped to death. You break down, you weep, you ask God, “Why?” You ask whether ,this whole human existence is worth messing around with. With any kind of holocaust like that, you wonder why you come out (of the tour) and little kids are laughing and playing.

When men were killed in the genocide, life went back to these villages. Women that had lost their husbands, sons and kids were friends and next-door neighbors with women whose husbands were soldiers who had fled across the border. By necessity, they’d stumbled on this form of justice called restoration. They’ve become family. If that had happened here, I would have sued you. I would have moved 2,000 miles away to never see you again, because that’s the way our culture works.

I met a guy who watched his father get killed; they buried his mother and sister alive in a latrine. He’s at a university in Rwanda where former boys who perpetrated crimes as soldiers work with victims from community groups and work for reconciliation.

It struck me that reconciliation is a worthy form of justice. I’m here because I want to get the tools ,in my hands to present the choice of reconciliation. What I see in Rwanda, where people have chosen to reconcile, it’s an incredible challenge to me. I saw a joy, I saw a peace that was so genuine. It’s about humanity. It’s about saving the relationship while righting the wrong. They taught me something, and maybe that’s something I can use here. In the legal world, how are we going to compensate you for the wrong done to you? I was challenged by Rwanda to explore that.

I don’t know that coming out of Willamette is going to mean I have the solution to other people’s problems. It just means that I have tools.

– Matthew Leady


Matthew LeadyMatthew Leady

“It struck me that reconciliation is a worthy form of justice. I’m here because I want to get the tools in my hands to present the choice of reconciliation.”

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