Lessons of Resilience and Humanity: A Reflection on Gratitude and Growth 

I’ve recently emerged from an intense two-week period, diving deep into knowledge shared by leading experts. Yet, the instant just before this photo was captured encapsulates one of the most profound lessons and moments of gratitude I’ve experienced.

Joanne Hession and Annick - Maxwell Leadership Conference - Lessons of Resilience and HumanityAllow me to introduce you to Annick. She was a teenager during the outbreak of the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, a time marked by civil war fuelled by long-standing divisions and the incitement of hatred. In a span of just 100 days, an estimated 800,000 to one million Tutsis, a social and ethnic minority, were brutally murdered by government forces, militias, and even ordinary citizens. This atrocity saw neighbours turning against neighbours, with many victims being slaughtered in their own communities, often sought out in places they sought refuge, like churches and schools. 

Tragically, Annick lost her parents and eight of her nine siblings to the genocide. At just 12, she found herself hiding alone in the bushes, surviving not only those horrifying 100 days but also the decades of severe challenges and torment that followed. 

During this dark period in Rwanda, I was 25 and volunteering with Concern Worldwide, supporting Rwandan refugee camps on the Rwanda-Tanzania border. I encountered many teenagers with stories similar to Annick’s in those camps. However, it wasn’t until sitting beside her at the Maxwell Leadership conference a few days ago, listening to her story, that I fully grasped the extent of the ongoing hardship many endured long after I had returned to Ireland. 

Reflecting on my meeting with Annick, I realize the deep debt of gratitude I owe her and her nation for the life-altering lessons learned. These lessons—on values, humanity, the fortune we have in Ireland, and the essence of life—have profoundly influenced me, inspiring the launch of LIFT Ireland in 2018 and shaping my actions today. 

Acknowledging that my personal growth came at the cost of Annick’s suffering is difficult to accept. I’m immensely grateful to Annick for reigniting within me a sense of humility and empathy, and I’m honoured to call her my friend. 

Rwanda’s experience—a devastating genocide driven by neighbour against neighbour and the incitement of hatred—serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of division.

While it’s not in my character to be overly dramatic, I’m compelled to emphasise the urgency of prioritising what truly matters: respect, empathy, listening, integrity, kindness, fairness, and embracing diversity. This is vital rather than dwelling on our differences, whether they stem from beliefs, opinions, political leanings, socioeconomic disparities, cultural backgrounds, or even our stances on contemporary issues like climate change, immigration, and healthcare reforms. In Ireland, as in many places around the world, these topics can deepen divisions, fostering an environment of us versus them. Yet, it’s these very moments that remind us of the importance of coming together, focusing on our shared humanity and the common ground that unites us, rather than the rifts that threaten to separate us. 

I understand that I cannot change others; I can only change myself. Yet, I am committed to sharing my journey of reinforcing values and behaviours that affirm my respect for all humanity. Though I may not always get it right and frequently need to course-correct, my goal is to continually strive for improvement. If you’re interested in joining me and thousands of others in Ireland on this journey, I invite you to connect with us at LIFT Ireland – info@liftireland.ie. 

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