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Survivors of genocide, violence speak in Aspen

Katie Redding
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesAnn Deavere Smith, center, moderates a panel discussion "Against All Odds: Profiles in Resiliency" at Aspen's St. Regis Resort on Thursday evening. The program explored the process by which four survivors of genocide, war and gang violence have resiliently transformed tragedy into action.
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ASPEN ” Ingrid was seven years old when the Hutu extremists unleashed a genocide on their minority Tutsi countrymen in Rwanda.

She was forced to flee with her sister. For months they wandered through the countryside, scavenging for food, trying to escape the killing mobs.

At one point she was captured by the Hutus. When they returned from their killing sprees, the men would force her to wash their machetes. Each time she washed the blood, she thought: this blood could belong to my cousin. It could belong to my sister.



As far as she knows, her mother was killed and thrown in a mass grave. Her father, she has been told, was killed by his best friend.

“I used to play with [the murderer’s] kids. I knew them,” she said, speaking from the St. Regis-Aspen Thursday, where the Bezos family foundation and the Aspen Ideas Festival hosted a Global Nomads program called “Against All Odds: Profiles in Resiliency.”

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Four young survivors of genocide, war and gang violence–Ingrid, Josh Miller of Santa Monica, Calif., Ying Lao, of Burma, and Lovetta Conto, of Liberia, spoke to a packed ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel on the idea of resiliency.

Ingrid, 20, is currently at Stanford University, studying medicine as the school’s first-ever Rwandan student. Josh Miller, 18, is the founder of Resilient Youth Foundation, which he began after his best friend, Eddie Lopez, was accidentally killed in a gang shoot-out. Conto, 16, is a Strongheart Fellow in Los Angeles, Calif.

Asked where their resiliency”and ultimately, their leadership”comes from, Miller pointed out that each of the speakers had at least one important person in his or her life.



Lao, for example, had a father who told her “you can be who you want to be, you can do what you want to do, by not allowing other people to push you down.”

Conto spoke of her appetite for learning, and moderator”and playwright, actor, teacher and author”Anna Deavere Smith suggested that it was her desire to learn which had helped her transcend her situation and become a leader.

Miller said the four students had been discussing resiliency earlier in the day, and they had decided that it is ultimately borne out of knowledge.

“Surround yourself with knowledge. Surround your kids with knowledge,” he said.

Asked what those in the audience can do about the problem of armed conflict, the students were emphatic about the need to focus on small actions.

“You can do something small, and that will count,” Ingrid said. “If we all become better people in small ways, that will be great.”

And on the topic of forgiveness, Ingrid was clear that it is the only choice. She has forgiven even those who killed her parents, she said.

“The world is for all of us,” she said.


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