"Get Your Boots Dirty" - Romeo Dallaire launches Africa 2020

Posted: November 25, 2018

On November 1st, 1993, Major General Roméo Dallaire stood in Kinihira, Rwanda, overlooking the lush, green, rolling hills that tumble across this land that Dallaire called “Paradise on earth” (Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire, 2007). There, he raised the United Nations flag to officially launch what would become the ill-fated peace keeping mission to Rwanda.

On November 1st, 2018, the 25th anniversary of this history changing event, Lieutenant-General, the Honourable, Roméo  Dallaire stood in front of a full auditorium of students at James M. Hill High School. There, he gave a rousing address that challenged our youth to become agents of change, to become politically active, and to get their boots dirty by volunteering at home and abroad. He also officially endorsed the launch of ASDN’s “Africa 2020” initiative.

General Dallaire took students on an hour long journey from his mission in Rwanda to his current mission to end the use child soldiers. Using his experience, stories, and passion to convey his overreaching message, Dallaire declared, “This generation is the generation without borders!” He then challenged our students to become leaders locally and on the world stage, devoting their time to causes that are dear to their hearts, thereby changing their world for the better.

“I’d like to recommend that we create, in this incredible country of ours, a rite of passage.” Dallaire said, “That when you finish high school, you have, underneath your bed, a pair of dirty boots. A pair of boots that you got dirty when you went to a developing country where you went to feel, hear, taste, listen, cry, and laugh, and to help build humanity.” 

Dallaire then gave a resounding endorsement of ASDN’s Africa 2020 initiative that seeks to fulfill his vision of having students “get their boots dirty”. This initiative promises to be a once‐in‐a‐lifetime learning experience that will ultimately see students participate in a field study to Rwanda in 2020.  There they will have the opportunity to hone in on their passions, whether it be in the area of peace building, international development, the eradication of child soldiers, genocide studies, or animal conservation. While in Rwanda students will learn about, and participate in, the Rwandan cultural practice of Umuganda  (volunteer work for the betterment of the community), study how fair trade improves the lives of rural Rwandans, engage with conservation experts during an African safari, and learn how international development, local reconciliation efforts and grassroots NGO’s have turned Rwanda into one of the safest and most prosperous countries in Africa.

This was not General Dallaire’s only stop on a whirlwind tour of Anglophone North School District. He presented that evening to a sold out audience at a gala dinner and silent auction at the Rodd Miramichi River Resort. The next evening he traveled north where Bathurst High School partnered with the local Rotary Club so even more people had the opportunity to hear his message of hope through adversity, following your moral compass, and becoming global citizens. In total close to 1500 people in our area were moved by his words over the two days.

At the gala dinner General Dallaire was welcomed to our region by Giller Prize winner, novelist, and poet, Senator David Adams Richards:

“General Dallaire was asked to go to Rwanda and in that place, at that terrible time, he did whatever was humanly possible to save who he could, without support from those who sent him. He did not shirk his duty—no, not a duty to the army but to men, women and children—he refused to leave them behind. But he was a savior with far too many to save, and it haunted him, as it haunts us. General Dallaire achieved greatness, not as a soldier, but as a man—one human being standing up against tyranny, in the most dreadful of circumstances.”

At the conclusion of the evening which featured artisanal silent auction items created by students throughout ASDN and a stirring keynote address by General Dallaire, Superintendent Mark Donovan made a few major announcements:

-      Big Brothers Big Sister/Boys and Girls Club of Miramichi has committed to sponsoring the full cost of sending two students on our Africa 2020 initiative.

-      An anonymous donation of a $2500 bursary for a student to attend the Africa 2020 initiative was made in memory of a cherished former JMH teacher who inspired countless students to get their boots dirty and travel the world, Mr. Lloyd Cameron.

Finally, in honour of General Dallaire’s support for our Africa 2020 initiative and his ongoing humanitarian work, Mr. Donovan sought to end the evening in grand fashion with the following declaration:

“Tonight, I am very pleased to announce that Anglophone North School District is creating the General Roméo Dallaire scholarship fund to support our Africa 2020 project, and we are committing to provide eight $3000 scholarships in your name – one each for our eight high schools to be able to send a deserving student.”

However, Dallaire’s instinct as a General shone through when we would not allow Mr. Donovan to have the last word. He quickly rose from his seat, grabbed the microphone from Mr. Donovan and announced, “Make that nine scholarships. I would like to personally donate $3000 to help another student in Anglophone North get their boots dirty.”