In Immaculée’s family, education is extremely important. Both her parents are teachers and encourage their children to be extremely diligent in their studies, providing the children with extra instruction and supervision on their homework. Immaculée is an ambitious, intelligent, and disciplined young woman, and she excels academically. This opens up opportunities for her to attend the very best educational institutions in Rwanda, experience independence at a young age, and lay the foundations for an impressive career. Yet despite Immaculée’s own hard work and talent, her education is blighted by both institutional and informal prejudice and discrimination against Tutsis. Over the course of the book, she learns that while education may be affected by ignorance and hatred, it is also one of the best solutions to the problem of prejudice and can help people to survive in extremely difficult situations. While Immaculée’s primary focus in the book is the power of love, faith, and forgiveness to get people through the most difficult of times, education and discipline are also shown to have a transformative impact on individuals and society, and to be beacons of hope for a better world.
In some ways, Immaculée presents her educational success as natural and easy. She always loved studying, and was eager to obey her parents’ wishes for her to be a star student. Indeed, just as Immaculée always had a natural enthusiasm for religion, so, too, did she wholeheartedly embrace education. As a result, when she is fifteen years old, Immaculée finishes the eighth grade with an average grade of 94%, which she notes is “more than enough to ensure a scholarship and placement in one of the best public high schools in the region.” At this age, she dreams of attending university and being a pilot, a professor, or a psychologist. Although she is only from a small village, her discipline and educational success indicate that she will be able to achieve anything she puts her mind to. Indeed, Immaculée is eventually accepted into the Lycée de Notre Dame d’Afrique, one of the best schools in the country, and into the National University in Butare, where she is awarded a scholarship. At every turn, Immaculée achieves more and more academic honors and thus, from a certain perspective, her educational success looks rather easy.
Despite her own hard work, Immaculée’s education is marred by prejudice and discrimination. As early as elementary school, one of her teachers, Buhoro, makes the students identify themselves by their ethnicity and scolds Immaculée when she admits that she doesn’t know whether she is Tutsi or Hutu. Later, when Immaculée is accepted to the Lycée, she does not receive the scholarship to which her grades entitle her because she is Tutsi. Finally, the genocide itself begins when Immaculée is on Easter break from college. When she eventually returns to Butare after the genocide ends, she finds the university destroyed. Prejudice and violence thus cast a shadow over Immaculée’s entire educational career. Even as her own talent, hard work, and discipline propel her to academic success, Immaculée cannot escape the impact of prejudice, which blights her educational journey.
Despite the destructive impact of prejudice, however, education ultimately helps Immaculée to survive the genocide and to rebuild her life in its aftermath. Perhaps the most pertinent example of this comes with Immaculée’s decision to teach herself English while she is confined to Pastor Murinzi’s bathroom. She realizes that many of the Tutsi rebels who are fighting their way through the country have been living in Uganda, and that they therefore speak English. She realizes that if the rebels succeed in defeating the government, speaking English will help her to get a good job, and she even has a vision of herself working at the UN. Immaculée’s extraordinary talent and discipline allow her to teach herself English in the bathroom using only the Bible and a dictionary. As predicted, this helps her to build a successful life after the genocide and even realize her dream of working at the UN.
Through her discipline and dedication to education, Immaculée is able to keep learning even in the most difficult situation imaginable, hiding for her life in the midst of a genocide. This remarkable fact emphasizes that, with discipline and determination, education and growth are always possible. In this way, the book presents knowledge and self-betterment as sources of hope—beacons of light in the darkness of ignorance.
Education, Discipline, and Growth ThemeTracker
Education, Discipline, and Growth Quotes in Left to Tell
Both of my parents were teachers, and adamant believers that the only defense against poverty and hunger was a good education… Mom and Dad were the first high school graduates in their families, and they were determined that their children would go even further than they had in school. Dad led by example, working hard and studying throughout his life. He received many honors and promotions during his career, rising steadily through the ranks from primary teacher to junior high school principal. He was eventually appointed chief administrator for all of the Catholic schools in our district.
My parents were devout Roman Catholics and passed on their beliefs to us. Mass was mandatory on Sundays, as were evening prayers with the family at home. I loved praying, going to church, and everything else to do with God. I especially loved the Virgin Mary, believing that she was my second mom, watching out for me from heaven.
Mom and Dad ignored the social and political reality they lived in, and instead taught that everyone was born equal. They didn't want their children growing up feeling paranoid or inferior because they were born Tutsi.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had fled Rwanda during the troubles of 1959 and 1973, as well as the many other times that Hutu extremists had gone on Tutsi killing sprees. They'd gone into exile to save their lives and those of their families. Mr. Gahigi called the rebels "foreigners" because most of them grew up in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Zaire—but that was only because President Habyarimana enforced a policy banning exiles from ever returning to Rwanda. He'd created a Tutsi diaspora, and entire generations of Rwandan Tutsis had grown up without once setting foot in their homeland.
I took a deep breath and thanked God for answering my prayers and bringing me the tools I needed to learn English. Even though I’d be losing prayer time, I knew that God would be with me while I studied. He intended for me to learn this language, and I could feel the power of His intention coursing through me. I would not waste a minute of my time in self-pity or doubt. God had presented me with a gift and my gift in return would be to make the most of His kindness.
I knew that whatever I envisioned would come to pass if I had faith and visualized it with a pure heart and good intentions, and if it were something God thought was right for me. It was then that I realized I could dream and
visualize my destiny. I vowed that I'd always dare to dream for what I wanted. And I would only dream for beautiful things like love, health, and peace, because that is the kind of beauty God wants for all His children.
Damascene managed to get to his feet one more time, and then he smiled at the killers. His fearlessness confused them—they'd murdered many Tutsis and always enjoyed listening to their victims plead for their lives. Damascene's composure robbed them of that pleasure. Instead of negotiating or begging for mercy, he challenged them to kill him. “Go ahead,” he said. “What are you waiting for? Today is my day to go to God. I can feel Him all around us. He is watching, waiting to take me home. Go ahead—finish your work and send me
to paradise. I pity you for killing people like it's some kind of child's game. Murder is no game: If you offend God, you will pay for your fun. The blood of the innocent people you cut down will follow you to your reckoning. But I am praying for you . . . I pray that you see the evil you're doing and ask for Cod's forgiveness before it's too late."
The beautiful campus where I'd formed so many wonderful memories and loving friendships was no more. There was garbage everywhere, and many of the buildings were charred and crumbling. Student records blew across the campus like tumbleweeds, and after all these weeks, there were still so many bodies on the ground. I couldn't bear to look, fearing that I'd see the corpse of Sarah or one of my other dear girlfriends. I tried to conjure the memory of the school dances I'd enjoyed, the plays I’d performed in, the romantic walks I'd
taken with John . . . but all were obliterated by the devastation I saw before me.