NORTH BRUNSWICK – When Yannick Kabuguza was three years old, the left side of his face was sliced with a machete from his ear almost to his mouth.
Living in the village of Kibeho in Rwanda, his entire family was murdered during the genocide in 1994. He lost his mother, his father, and his five brothers and sisters. He survived by living in different refugee and orphan camps over the years.
Yet, at age 27, Kabuguza said his life has been filled with forgiveness.
“I can just go to visit him in the prison and give him some money, for real,” he said of the murderer, who he has compassion for since he lost his whole family, too. “We are human beings. No one is perfect. I have my positive side and my negative side. … My message to all people all over the world is forgiveness.”
In a recorded video, Kabuguza said he goes to church every Sunday and feels free. Yet his greatest lifechanger is just on the horizon.
William Lavin had visited Kibelho in November as part of his Where Angels Play Foundation, which builds playgrounds in the memories of children’s lives lost.
Lavin met Kabuguza, whose cousins visited North Brunswick Township High School in April. Inspired by the stories of survival, the school banded together to raise $1,525 to cover the airfare for Kabuguza, who will have surgery next month to repair the intense scarring on his face.
On June 13, William and his brother Bob Lavin accepted the donation from their nephew Tim Huber, a teacher at the high school; Principal Michael Kneller; Lou Emanuel, assistant principal for the sophomore class; and a group of students. The money was raised after Huber shared a video of Kabuguza with his six math classes, and then organized a school-wide effort to support the survivor.
“I’m just so proud of these kids. It’s something awesome for our school to do,” Huber said.
Kabuguza will travel to America for the first time on July 25, taking a 20-hour plane ride on Ethiopian Airlines to stay with William Lavin. They will visit New York City before having a $50,000 surgery done pro bono by a plastic surgeon in Schenectady, New York.
“Wow, I appreciate that so much,” Kabuguza said, crying, during a phone call after the presentation of the donation. “It’s been so long, a long time, I’ve been waiting for my surgery to happen. Finally, my dreams are going to happen. They did a great job for me.”
Addressing Kneller, he said, “Thank you so much. You are very, very nice people. You did great things for me. I appreciate all you guys so much.
“You live so far away in America, how people can care is unbelievable.”
William Lavin said he will try to reunite Kabuguza with the 20 members of the “Angels Army” who helped build the playground in his village, as well as the students who worked so hard to raise the money for his surgery.
William Lavin also said he may write a book about Kabuguza’s journey, explaining to the students that they are part of something much bigger than just raising some money.
“The vast majority of high school kids are good hearted,” William Lavin said. “These kids don’t get enough credit.”
To read more about the Where Angels Play Foundation, visit whereangelsplayfoundation.org.
For the original story on the Rwandan’s visit to North Brunswick Township High School, visit bit.ly/2JPULPm
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.