“You Are the Future of this Country” – Words that Inspired a Global Visionary

It was a night to remember—a moment to reflect on wrongs done in the past while focusing most on the triumph of hope for a better future and the hard work necessary to achieve it.

Two weeks ago, Grow Further hosted an event in Seattle featuring Dr. Cedric Habiyaremye, an agricultural scientist with an important message to share. No matter how dark a situation may seem, a brighter future can be achieved through perseverance.

Cedric should know—he survived the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, escaping with his family to Tanzania. As a child, Cedric also lost his father shortly after returning to Rwanda from a Tanzanian refugee camp.

Cedric was only seven years old when the genocide unfolded. He said he used to be shy about acknowledging the trauma he experienced. “There are things that I have seen that I cannot unsee,” he said.

However, this Grow Further special event, titled “From Refugee to Global Visionary: An Evening with Dr. Cedric Habiyaremye,” wasn’t about discussing those terrible events of the past. Rather, to an audience that clearly absorbed his enthusiasm, Cedric spoke of the strength he drew from his mother, a strength that propelled him to become the success story he is today.

He encouraged us all to have a bit of that strength and determination for ourselves.

Out of the dark, into the light

Cedric explained to the audience that he and his family knew hunger, both at that refugee camp in Tanzania and upon their return home to Rwanda where they struggled to survive after his father passed away. Seeing her son in despair, his mother fought back with inspiring words.

“I see you are desperate and you think this is the end of your lives,” Cedric recalls his mother telling him and his brother. “You are the future of this country,” she told them. “You can save people’s lives.”

That message was the same one Cedric gave to an audience the evening of May 14: Never give up. No matter how trying your circumstances may appear, there is always hope.

Dr. Habiyaremye explained this truth by retelling his own life story.

Surviving the genocide but struggling to get enough to eat, Cedric’s mother encouraged him and his brother to pursue education as a way of escaping their poverty. The only trouble was, his family couldn’t afford the necessary school fees.

To overcome this, Cedric said he borrowed a small amount of money from a neighbor to purchase some candy, which he then promptly resold at a profit.

Eventually, he raised enough funds to pay off his debt and afford schooling. Rather humorously, he recalled how it took enormous willpower for him to ignore his hungry belly and not eat the candy, his only ticket to a brighter future. “Sometimes we can sacrifice some of our immediate needs to look at what the opportunities are,” he explained.

Cedric said achieving a net profit at that young age was an eye-opening experience for him. “It became clear that I have a future now,” he said.

Mother knows best

He acknowledged that he initially couldn’t believe his mother’s words, her insistence that hope was just around the corner. He said he actually got angry when his brother took her side in this argument. Eventually, though, he said his hopelessness began fading away. Slowly, he came to appreciate what his mother was trying to tell him.

One evening, as he recalled, Cedric sat down with his brother as they discussed what they should do with the education they’d use to build a better future. He said his brother hated how families lacked enough good medicine in Rwanda and so vowed to become a pharmacist, like his father. Cedric had a slightly different goal—he hated how families didn’t have enough food to eat, so he vowed to study agriculture.

The power of education

Cedric Habiyaremye went on to achieve his master’s and doctorate degrees in agronomy and crop science from Washington State University.

“Sometimes we can sacrifice some of our immediate needs to look at what the opportunities are.”

To the rapt audience, Cedric said his mission today is to ensure no one will have to experience the hunger he and his family suffered during his childhood. “I vowed that I’ll do whatever it takes to create a zero-hunger world where the future generation will not have to experience what I experienced as a child,” he said. “I don’t like to see people going through what I went through, and there are so many of those people in Africa and other developing countries.”

Cedric has since introduced quinoa to his native country. A potential superfood, quinoa is packed with nutrition and relatively easy to grow, but as a crop, it’s had a difficult time spreading beyond South America. Cedric has kept busy finding a way to make this crop work for Rwanda and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s an investment in a more food-secure future that will one day pay off with a bit of persistence.

Cedric said he pursued education to overcome the challenges of his youth. His ultimate goal was to help his country grow more food. This, he is achieving.

Holding everyone’s attention, Cedric said the key to achieving one’s dreams is to know what your priorities are and to then protect those priorities, without fail. That is how he traveled “from that village in Rwanda to sitting where I am now this evening.”

He closed by recalling something his late father said, back when Dr. Habiyaremye was only six years old, regarding the true nature of happiness.

“When you think you’re happy, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect,” he said, repeating the words his father told him. “It means that you choose to look beyond the perfection, and you turn the challenges into opportunities.”

 — Grow Further

Photo credits: Robert Winkle Photography.

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