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Rwanda Genocide Survivor Jeanne Celestine Lakin (ep. 346)

On the Live Inspired Podcast, John O’Leary welcomes Rwandan genocide survivor Jeanne Celestine Lakin to share her story of courage, strength and the power of forgiveness.

In April 1994, nine-year-old Jeanne Celestine Lakin’s parents and nearly all of her adult relatives were some of the one million people killed during the Rwandan government’s ethnic massacre.

For 100 days, Jeanne and her three-year-old twin sisters hid in bushes to stay safe.

Heartbreaking and unimaginable, Jeanne shares her harrowing story of survival, courage and strength.

Jeanne reminds us that we all have the power to choose forgiveness, leave a legacy of peace and move forward.

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  • “For nine years, my parents gave me the love to carry me to this day.”
  • In addition to having a large immediate + extended family, Jeanne felt closeness with many other families in her village. because of how welcoming her parents were.
  • Power shift in the 1960s: While being colonized, Rwanda was divided into ethic groups with the largest being the Hutus (85%), frequently accompanied by Twa (1%) and the former ruling class of Tutsis (13-15%).
  • April 7, 1994: The Rwandan government seals the border, preventing any Tutsis from escaping, and in the following 100 days, over one million people would be killed.
  • Anticipating they’d only have to flee for a few days, Jeanne’s dad divides the children into groups of three. Jeanne, first seeking refuge with her aunt before being kicked out into the wilderness, was responsible for her twin three-year-old sisters.
  • In the midst of Rwanda’s rainy season + hearing voices of those being slaughtered, Jeanne relied on prayer and faith to cope with the chaos.
  • Filled with raging pain + defeat after watching her dad get murdered, Jeanne would pray, “let them be blind and not see me.”
  • “Life will continue to happen. It’s not necessarily what happens to us, it’s what we do with what happens.”
  • After giving her family a proper burial, Jeanne’s pregnant mother was preparing the flee the country prior to April 7. Just weeks later, Jeanne’s uncle shared that her mother and three-week-old brother was murdered.
  • “I’ll be with you.” At a refuge camp lined up to be murdered, a woman claims Jeanne as her child, miraculously sparing her life.
  • Unanswered questions: Propaganda fueled hatred towards Tutsis yet Jeanne chooses to leave a legacy of peace, honor those lost and express her feelings about her life experiences.
  • “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela
  • Who do you have to forgive? Forgiving someone that harmed us isn’t letting them off the hook but rather giving yourself the best gift.
  • Learn more about Jeanne Celestine Lakin’s non-profit One Million Orphans here.


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  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?
    A. The Gift by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.
  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. Extreme mental flexibility.
  3. Q. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?
    A. Photo albums of my husband as a child.
  4. Q. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be?
    A. The sweet woman that saved my life.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
    A. My dad would say, "envision what you want to be in the world."
  6. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
    A. Love yourself because when you love yourself you can go out and love others.
  7. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?
    A.  I survived and I'm leaving an impact on the world.