Full house at Altruism conference

29.5.2019

The conference: 'The power of courage and altruism: Reflections from Rwanda to the present day' was a resounding success, taking place in a packed room at The Humanitarium. Dr. François Xavier Ngarambe,  Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, made an opening speech, paying tribute to those individuals who saved others from certain death during the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

The conference then heard from Mr. Adama Dieng, UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, former Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda. Both men paid tribute to those people who throughout history have been selfless in helping others, often at great personal risk, and sometimes paying the ultimate price of their life to defend others, such as Captain Mbaye Diagne, a UN Peacekeeper who saved over 1,000 people during the genocide in Rwanda, before being killed himself.  They both reflected on the bravery and spirit of such individuals and how this should inspire us to be more altruistic and compassionate in the work we do.

The panel discussion heard from rescuers, survivors and academics, all reflecting on the power of courage and altruism in often, seemingly, impossible circumstances.

The panel heard a moving testimony from Ms. Jeanine Mukandanga, a genocide survivor, who told of her story of escape from Rwanda after her parents were murdered, and eventually finding a new home in Switzerland with adoptive parents, explaining that it was the kindness of others, that saved her life.

Another perspective was given by Dr. Herve Le Guillouzic, who had been the Medical coordinator for ICRC during the genocide in Rwanda. He talked of the surreal and shocking circumstances that they had to work within, often left speechless by the scale of the atrocities happening around them, but despite this stayed and continued their work.

The conference also looked at contemporary humanitarian crises including the migrant and refugee crisis unfolding each day in the Mediterranean as people try to flee from Libya to Europe. Ms. Lauren King, who worked for MSF on the Aquarius Rescue boat in the Mediterranean, described how her team were faced with impossible situations, of wanting to rescue those adrift at sea, but being prevented from doing so by maritime law and various anti-migration policies. But when faced with a sinking boat holding more than 100 people, they defied the law and saved as many men, women and children as they could.

The conference also heard from Professor Pierre Monforte, from the University of Leicester, a research specialist in altruism and humanitarian action. He explained that the feelings of solidarity or altruism can be triggered by various things including the sense of 'That could be me'. He explained that his research shows that the majority of people that they talked to would be willing to help migrants or refugees, which is contrary to the anti-migrant rhetoric of many European governments today.

The conference concluded by once again paying tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price, the loss of their life, to help others. Captain Mbaye Diagne, who now has a UN Medal for Exceptional Courage, named after him, represents all of those who put the safety of others first in humanitarian crises across the globe throughout history and right up to today.

The videos mentioned above can be viewed here and videos of the presentations at the conference can be viewed here.

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