Introduction of Roshi Genro Gauntt

This next leg of the journey led me—or rather I should say my older brother Grover, aka Roshi, Genro, Kamanzi and G.G.—took me to Central Africa. My brother, deep in his soul, has been a Zen Buddhist as long as I have known him, notwithstanding our centuries-long heritage of Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Pagan upbringing dating back to the highlands of Scotland and the lowlands of Lancaster, England. His roots go much farther back—deep roots he shares with his nephew, Jimmy Gauntt. My brother has dedicated his life to peace, healing and helping mankind suffer less. I can admit—now—I didn’t understand or respect his calling, his purpose, for a long time. I am happy and proud to say that I do now.

Grover at his USC Graduation in 1969 Yvonne's Story By: Roshi Genro Gauntt
Grover at his USC Graduation in 1969 Genro Gauntt at the Entrance to Birkenau (this photo appeared in National Geographic Magazine)  and on the streets of New York
Roshi Genro Gauntt (AKA: Grover) and CaseycaseyRoshi Genro GaunttRoshi Genro Gauntt and Casey Gauntt
Grover (AKA Roshi, Genro, Kamanzi, G.G.) & CaseyRoshi Genro GaunttGenro & Casey

My brother is sometimes called Roshi, a title that is earned by those Zen teachers considered to have attained a deep understanding and expression of the Dharma. The Zen Peacemaker organizations with whom he works are immersed in the reality that mankind has a history-a proclivity-to do horrible things to their fellow man; as a species we have a natural tendency to quickly forget and drive into the subconscious the atrocities we have committed and, as a consequence, we leave a wake of damaged, frightened, lost and angry souls—living here and beyond—and an uncanny ability to free our conscious-selves to repeat the nightmares—over and over and over.

Bearing Witness— the fundamental mission of the Peacemakers—is to witness, remember, this fundamental flaw of our species—don’t forget—and help with the healing of those who have suffered these terrible things. “Those” include present, past and future generations of the ones who were massacred, maimed and brutalized as well as the ones who instigated the suffering. The Zen Buddhist will tell you they are one and the same.

My brother’s work takes him to the Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota, on the streets with the homeless in major cities all over the world, and to the killing fields where some of the most horrific atrocities took place. Every year since 1996 he has helped lead Bearing Witness retreats to the death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland where over 1,000,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

4 Lakota women, 3 w/infants in cradleboardsBearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz-Birkenau

My brother and the Peacemakers started their work with Rwanda in 2007 when Dora Urugeni attended a Bearing Witness retreat in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The following year five more people from Rwanda attended the Auschwitz retreat, and they asked my brother if he would lead a similar retreat in Rwanda. In April 2010 he and several members of the Peacemakers Institute organized a retreat in Kigali during their national week of mourning the Tutsi genocide. In a three month period between April 6 and July 4, 1994 over 800,000 Rwandans—mostly Tutsis— were slaughtered by their Hutu brothers.

Nyamata Genocide Memorial – (Rwanda church where 10,000 seeking safe-harbor were murdered in 4 days)

Nyamata Church Service in 1992Nyamata Church in 1994 ceiling with bullet holes10,000 were killed - here are some of the victim's clothing on pews
Nyamata Church Service in 1992Church in 1994 (Bullet holes)Victim’s clothing on pews
Mass graves memorial behind churchStacks of femursRacks of skulls
Mass graves behind churchStacks of femursRacks of skulls

It was during this first visit to Rwanda that my brother stumbled on Yvonne’s Story. He has returned to Rwanda every year since to lead Bearing Witness Retreats and help with the healing.

I am proud to share this amazing story from my brother.

I am proud of my amazing brother.


Yvonne’s Story

By: Roshi Genro Gauntt

Nyamata Genocide Memorial
Rwanda, April 2010

As we were listening to the story of the guide who was also a survivor at Nymata, he turned to Yvonne, a beautiful, warm, young Rwandan woman, and said “you look exactly like someone who died here in 1994. Were any of your relatives here?” Yvonne said yes, her grandmother and her grandfather, her mother’s parents, had both been killed here in Nymata. He said “you look exactly like your grandmother—please come back when you have some time. I would like to share some things with you.”

I and several other representatives of the Peacemaker Institute in New York were in the middle of a three week trip to Rwanda working with local organizations to learn and bear witness to the civil war and genocide that took place there in 1994 when 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus killed one another. This day we had come to the Nymata Memorial Site, a church where 10,000 Tutsis had died and over 40,000 of the dead are interred, many of them in open graves.

Yvonne was very excited and she called her mother on our way back to Kigali from Nymata. Our bus was alight with this miraculous happening; a welcome relief given a day in the ashes.

A week later, Yvonne, her mother and thirty two members of their family hired a bus and went back to Nymata to hear what the guide had to tell them. He shared some personal reminiscences of the two elders. The entire family with the exception of Yvonne’s grandparents had taken refuge in Uganda long before the 1994 genocide and returned immediately thereafter.

They had already somehow known the horrible details of the murders of the elders. Yvonne had recounted them to me early in our retreat. The grandfather had been a tall man; Tutsis are known for their height. The killers chopped his legs off slowly with machetes—first his feet, then methodically the rest of his legs, in increments, taunting him saying they wanted to see what a short Tutsi looked like. He died when the machetes reached his midsection. The grandmother was raped at least ten times before she was killed. I have heard many hard stories before, but this one was delivered by Yvonne in the midst of a seemingly benign conversation— and told calmly by such a sweet soul. I was shocked.

The astounding fact was that one of the killers was a prisoner at a camp not far from the Nymata site. The guide sent someone to fetch him. He was brought before Yvonne and her family and directly asked about the details of the murder. He admitted killing Yvonne’s grandparents and spoke his repentance. He also allowed that he knew where the bodies were buried. They immediately went to the location, unearthed the skulls and bones and collected them for a proper burial that would take place a few weeks hence.

When they returned to the church, the prisoner had one more detail to divulge. The grandmother had been pregnant when she was raped and killed—at least eight months pregnant. They had cut the baby out of her and placed it on the doorstep of a local priest in Nymata.

The family quickly found out that the priest had left Rwanda during the genocide. A neighbor had an address for the priest in Canada, but didn’t know if the address was good as it was from sixteen years ago.

Yvonne’s mother called Canada that night after the family returned home to Kigali. She called information and found the priest listed. She called him and told him what they had discovered hours before in Nymata. Did he have a baby?

“Yes,” he said “and she is now sixteen years old.” He told her he had indeed found her on his doorstep and that he and the baby fled Nymata immediately after the killings and moved to Canada. The girl was being raised by his family, and she had not been told where she came from or how she happened to be with her adopted family. Yvonne’s mother was beyond pale as she received this news of her sister. She asked the priest to go to the young girl, tell her the truth and ask her to expect a phone call from her family in Rwanda. The call happened that same night.

The priest said he hoped to bring the young girl to Rwanda in December to visit…and leave the rest to Providence.
What a day. The family cried all night and for the next two days.

My brother said the priest and Yvonne’s aunt have not returned to Rwanda. To this day they remain very afraid. The wounds have not healed.


Roshi Genro Gauntt LINKS:

The 1994 Rwanda Genocide in the Media

Frontline and BBC co-production TV Special – the infamous Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire who was in charge of the 2,500 UN Peace Keeping Troops during 1994 was abandoned by the world and, like Roshi Genro Gauntt, could only “Bear Witness” to the unchecked genocide in Rwanda (noted at 1:04:30).

Why would my big brother want me to join him on one of his annual trips to Rwanda? This powerful 2004 documentary, almost two hours in length, is a must watch. After you watch this, call me and when I go I’ll book you a seat too. —Casey

“Hotel Rwanda”- The well-know 2004 movie where actor Don Cheadle played the part of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager, cooperating with a decimated UN contingent to house over a thousand Tutsi refugees.

One response to “Yvonne’s Story”

  1. […] My brother, Roshi Genro Gauntt is in Kigali, Rwanda for the next three weeks. Twenty years ago this month the genocide began and over 800,000 Rwandans were killed over a three month period. There will be ceremonies observing this tragedy and my brother and other members of Zen Peacekeepers together with Rwandan NGO representatives will lead a Bearing Witness retreat to continue with the healing and maintain the awareness that mankind does horrible things to mankind. I wrote about my brother and his work in Rwanda in Yvonne’s Story posted on the site in February.  Yvonne’s Story […]

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Author Bios

Write Me Something Beautiful Authors - Casey and Jimmy Gauntt

Casey Gauntt

is a retired attorney and former senior executive of a major San Diego real estate company. He lives in Solana Beach, California, with his wife, Hilary. Casey grew up in Itasca, Illinois, graduated Lake Park High School in 1968, and received B.S., JD and MBA degrees from the University of Southern California.

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Jimmy Gauntt

was born and raised in Solana Beach and graduated from Torrey Pines High School in 2002.   A prestigious Trustee Scholar at the University of Southern California, he majored in English and Spanish. He authored six plays, five screenplays, and a multitude of poems and short stories. Beginning in 2010, the USC English Department annually bestows the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Award—aka “The Jimmy”—to the top graduates in English.  Jimmy passed over to the other side in 2008 at age 24.

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