BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Central Albertans were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience this week, when inspiring Canadian hero Lieutenant-General the Honourable Roméo Dallaire addressed a crowd of hundreds at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
His captivating presence caused a standing ovation before his lecture could even begin, and the quality and moving nature of the discussion earned him a second ovation at the close.
Lt.-Gen. Dallaire is a celebrated and highly-renowned humanitarian, public speaker, retired senator and general.
He served as Force Commander of the UNIMAR United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda between 1993-1994, and tried desperately to warn the world about the impending genocide.
Standing strong in the face of a legal and ethical dilemma, Dallaire ultimately stayed in Rwanda during the genocide, to fulfill his duty in providing solace to those he could.
His lecture discussed some of the atrocities he had seen, but ultimately focused on the potential of humans to rise above and prevent future atrocities from being committed – a duty he primarily contributes to the young generation of those under 25.
“I think young people – the generation without borders, as I call them – is starting to grasp the power they have in their hands with this new communications revolution. It’s going to mature, and they are going to out-pace the generations before them,” he said thoughtfully in an interview that followed his lecture.
He said one of the ways young people can grasp tools at their disposal is to take themselves away from the comfort of their homes, and immerse themselves in developing nations.
Dallaire explained that this is the best way to fully learn to appreciate and understand the devastation and hardships that face 80% of the world’s population.
“That will sensitize them to the point that they are aware. You cannot come back from countries in Africa or in South America without being affected. That effect is what I hope is lasting in their hearts when they are taking on duties and responsibilities later in life,” Dallaire said.
His passion for youth, and belief in their power was moving.
Dallaire addressed a crowd of over 800 people, encouraging and trying to genuinely relay to them the importance of taking action.
His lecture was centred around the theme of a new era of conflict resolution.
He spoke passionately of the absolute necessity for youth of developed nations such as Canada to begin contributing and shaping the culture of a future which simply has no room for genocide, mass discrimination and hatred.
“I truly believe that young people are underestimating their resiliency. I truly believe they can handle a lot more. They’ve got better tools than we ever had, through communications and assets, better than we could have ever dreamed. They can coalesce and they are never alone, really,” he said, noting this instant communication will be the grounds for a world free of division and full of understanding.
“They build a basis of activism, and the essence of the future for these young people is to become activists, to really create an atmosphere in which people have to listen and hear you.”
He was adamant that it is not the point to create anarchy, but to appropriately stand one’s ground in the face of legal, ethical and moral injustices.
He said it begins with a quiet stance but that youth must remain steady in their efforts to drive global change.
“One example I will always remember is sitting in the Senate during a Speech From the Throne. This young woman, Paige, was 21, walked right to the middle of the Senate and took out a sign that said, ‘Stop Harper’. She stood quietly, showed the sign around and then the security came and took her. She didn’t object or anything, and was very civilized. That girl had guts,” he said.
“That is the type of thing that works. It didn’t destroy the ceremony, it just brought attention to people’s thinking. That is what we want!”
One of the points Dallaire made during his lecture was for Canadians to grasp the full potential of this year’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
He said it is crucial to remember the defining moments in our nation’s history, such as the actions taken at Vimy Ridge, to fully understand and appreciate the covenant that has been drawn between those who gave their lives for freedoms and those who now owe their passion to the cause.
He explained this covenant, drawn in blood by the young people who serve in wars, is a lasting promise between the current population to remain fierce in the face of injustice and to genuinely strive to create a better tomorrow.
He said this must be the true legacy of ‘Canda 150’ – to create a lasting, institutional change that will ultimately continue to serve as Canada’s legacy of a compassionate, morally grounded and peace-keeping nation.
As well, he shared the importance of realizing the warning signs of dire conflict and having the courage to take risks to prevent atrocities.
“For example, in the research we’ve done, we discovered that when you have the recruitment of child soldiers, it is an early sign of a conflict going catastrophic. If that power is willing to use children to fight, they are willing to do anything. It’s a matter of seeking out those early warning signs and acting on them. That means taking risks. There is more risk in preventing than actually engaging. In preventing, if nothing happens, people say, ‘What the hell did you do that for?’ And if something does happen, they will ask who could have prevented it.”
He said it is imperative for the young generation, the “generation of no borders”, to actively live, stand strong and fight for what is truly right, so that there can truly be a world where when people say, “Never again” it is meant, felt and lived.