"Get Your Boots Dirty"

 
 

On 5 September 2017, StFX hosted its first X Talks series of the 2017-2018 school year. Several students presented on various subjects: Monica Miller and Nia MacFarlane presented on their work with Shinerama and cystic fibrosis, student entrepreneur Cameron Sehl spoke about his experiences with medical care in the developing world and how he hoped to make it more accessible through a mobile application and Rebecca Mesay spoke about the experiences of her parents fleeing violence in their native Ethiopia in the eighties.

The keynote presentation was given by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, a retired Canadian Forces officer who famously served as the commander of the ill-fated United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). In 1993, Rwanda was teetering on mass violence, a problem Dallaire and the UNAMIR observers were keenly aware of as weapons were shipped into the country and ethnic tensions simmered. Overnight, the country erupted into violence as members of the Hutu ethnic group began to butcher Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Nearly one million people would be killed in one hundred days of unrepentant violence. Doing everything within his power to stop the violence and repeatedly ignoring orders to leave the country, Dallaire has been directly credited with saving over thirty-two thousand Rwandans.

Dallaire returned to Canada devastated by what he had seen in Rwanda and felt abandoned by both the United Nations and the Canadian military. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Dallaire would attempt suicide four times- a topic he briefly touched on in his speech.

 Photo courtesy of Nikan Ghafari

Photo courtesy of Nikan Ghafari

Despite these hardships, Dallaire never lost faith in humanity and discussed with pride his passion for helping others. Concerned by the recruitment of child soldiers into militias, something he witnessed and realized would only perpetuate and extend wars rather than end them, Dallaire established the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, an NGO based at Dalhousie University that aims to prevent and end the usage of children as soldiers and weapons in conflict zones. Dallaire drew parallels between the Rwandan genocide and the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Iraq due to the usage of children as combatants, and the ‘weaponization’ of rape. Through social media, Dallaire asserts that “You have what we never had, the ability to influence the world” and that the world is “waiting to be engaged”. Urging students to go out into the world as a means of igniting that same passion, Dallaire finished his presentation with the statement to students to “get your boots dirty”.