Montreal

Refugee Jean-Baptiste Mukiza resettles in NDG, shares sport with community

Jean-Baptiste Mukiza is a survivor or the Rwandan genocide and is now living in Montreal and working as the food distribution manager for the NDG Food Depot.

Genocide survivor shares his love of sport with coworkers at the NDG Food Depot

Jean-Baptiste Mukiza resettled in Montreal after fleeing Rwanda. (CBC)

Sports can be about much more than just winning or losing a game.

It can bring people together. It can be a common language between different cultures.

And sometimes, as in the case of Rwandan refugee Jean-Baptiste Mukiza, it can rebuild a life.

Mukiza is a survivor or the Rwandan genocide and is now living in Montreal and working as the food distribution manager for the NDG Food Depot.

A new work-out routine

On Tuesdays after work at the NDG Food Depot, Mukiza snaps his fingers and leads his co-workers in a dance work out routine he calls Gym-Tonic.

It's a new initiative that he created since starting work at the depot.
Jean-Baptiste Mukiza started playing sports after fleeing Rwanda. (Jean-Baptiste Mukiza)

He smiles from ear-to-ear as the music plays. It's clear by watching him that doing this activity with the people he works with fills him with joy.

"Our language is different, (our) colour is different but (we have) the same focus, the same pleasure," Mukiza said.

The food depot's director of development, Bonnie Soutar, shares Mukiza's enthusiasm for his program.

"The staff works to their maximum, so to have that hour where we kind of get together and we do something fun and energetic and lively and there is music... it's really quite bonding," she said.

Mukiza knows sports and activities like this can bring people closer together.

It is a lesson he first learned as a young boy — in aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

Sports can be about much more than just winning or losing a game. It can bring people together, it can be a common language between different cultures and sometimes, like in the case of Rwandan refugee Jean Baptiste Mukiza, it can rebuild a life. 2:18

A childhood disrupted

At nine years old, Mukiza found himself isolated and alone after the vicious civil war ripped through Rwanda and destroyed his family.

Hundreds of thousands of people were murdered when the Hutu majority unleashed killing squads to wipe out the Tutsi minority.

Mukiza's father, a Tutsi, was beaten to death by Hutus with a hammer.

The sports helped me.- Jean-Baptiste Mukiza

His mother survived but was left traumatized and handicapped.

"After genocide, I feel no hope. No value in my community. They see me as 'nobody,' as 'poor'. If something lost in the area, I was the first person they thought stole it because I had nothing... every day, every day. It crushed my heart," he said. 

"The sports helped me."

In the United Nations refugee camps, Mukiza said he started starting playing rugby and soccer and soon found he was no longer feeling like an outcast.

"I felt special, I find my value and I feel like we are together because we work together, we use energy together. The same energy, the same focus."

A new life in Canada

As a new immigrant in Canada, Mukiza once again found a family through sports.

He joined the Wanderers Rugby Club and says he quickly went from feeling alone to feeling part of something.

Now that he's landed a job at the NDG food depot, he's doing it again with Gym-Tonic.

Working up a sweat with and leading co-workers through a few crossover steps and high kicks is his way of giving back

"Canada gave me back my hope, my opportunity, my value. To me, this is the time to show Canada that what I get, I'm able to use it and to make Canada happy too," Mukiza said.

He sees Gym Tonic as a way to build bonds and he welcomes everyone with open arms.

 
Jean-Baptiste Mukiza has joined the Wanderers Rugby Club in Montreal. (Jean-Baptiste Mukiza)

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