'He saved me'

17 October 2019 by Claire Hunter

Theogene Ngamije

Theogene Ngamije was just a small boy when a simple act of kindness by an Australian peacekeeper changed his life.

Ngamije had been separated from his parents in a refugee camp in Rwanda in 1994 and thought his life was over.

“No day was easy,” he said. “I was five to six years old and most of us were in a refugee camp in Kibeho. Bombings, shootings started happening… I was scared, of course… intimidated and hungry.

“I was seated down, crying, not knowing where to go and … an Australian soldier gave me an Australian national flag – the patch, the one that normally goes on their uniform – and gave me a piece of biscuit…

“He lifted me up, put me on his shoulder and took me to safety where the other kids were. He saved me and he gave me a different understanding of what soldiers do.”

More than 20 years later, Ngamije is now a private in the Australian army. He shares his story in The courage for peace exhibition, which opens at the Australian War Memorial on 18 October 2019.

Curator Margaret Farmer said the exhibition tells the story of what Australians do to make, shape and keep peace, with themes of courage, hope, partnership and shared humanity.

The Courage for Peace tells the story of Australia’s peacemakers, peacekeepers, disaster-relief workers and capacity builders, who work strategically, and courageously, to avert tragedy and build peace,” Farmer said.

“The exhibition does this through a focus on Australia’s recent peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the Asia–Pacific, and Australia’s diplomatic efforts to prevent conflict, including in support of the United Nations and the international rules-based order.”

The exhibition features a number of objects – including a heavily damaged window salvaged from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta following the 2004 bombing – and focuses on the experiences, reflections and personal perspectives of those individuals who have contributed to Australia’s efforts towards peace.

Their stories are told in a powerful audio visual production, which was generously supported by Rotary, a non-profit organisation that has been committed to advancing peace and working on conflict resolution in troubled areas around the world for many decades.

“Hearing directly from those who work towards peace,” Farmer said. “You can’t help but be impressed by their commitment and courage.”

The courage for peace opens in the Memorial’s Special Exhibition Gallery on 18 October 2019, and will be displayed for approximately 12 months.