From refugee to philanthropist: A story of resilience and courage

Daniel Trust shared his heartfelt journey through the genocide and coming out as gay. During the lecture, he began to cry with emotion. He answered the questions from students and gave hugs to everyone after lecture. (Junbo Huang/The Daily Campus)

Daniel Trust shared his heartfelt journey through the genocide and coming out as gay. During the lecture, he began to cry with emotion. He answered the questions from students and gave hugs to everyone after lecture. (Junbo Huang/The Daily Campus)

Public speaker Daniel Ndamwizeye, known professionally as Daniel Trust, spoke about surviving the Rwandan genocide and coming out as gay in college, at the Rainbow Center on Wednesday.

Trust is the founder and CEO of The Daniel Trust Foundation. Founded in October of 2009, this non-profit organization is a Connecticut-based fund that helps low-income groups with their education. Thus far, the foundation has pledged a total of $56,000 in scholarships to high school recipients and $8,000 to teacher figures that have impacted the lives of these high school students.

Trust was born and raised in Rwanda. His father was a businessman and his mother was a stay-at-home-mom. The last child of eight, Trust lived in a very religious family.

Somewhere between 800,000 and one million people died in Rwanda in 1994. A civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi communities spread terror throughout the country. Many civilians were frightened and Trust’s family prayed for protection.

At the age of five, he attended a Tutsi church meeting with his mother and two of his sisters. It was at this religious gathering that Hutu extremists stormed the building and rounded up the people into a circle outside. Armed with machetes and guns, they began to kill members of the Tutsi community. One death was Trust’s mother and he witnessed it firsthand. Two of his sisters also died.

His father went into hiding, but was discovered and killed. Trust’s family’s home was plundered of all belongings of value and burned afterwards.

Not all Hutu people were violent, however. A Hutu gentleman who knew Trust’s family took Trust to his home and brought him to the Congo for safety. Once the genocide was over, Trust traveled back home, now an orphan.

In school, other kids bullied him for acting very flamboyant. If he made any sort of mistake, like washing the dishes the wrong way, he would have been heavily reprimanded. As a result of these negative experiences, he performed poorly in school.

At the age of 11, the husband of one of Trust’s sisters came to Rwanda and brought him to America. Throughout adolescence and his high school career, Trust had the mindset that being gay was a sin. He would pray that God would save him and make him straight. Eventually, he came out for the first time to one of his closest friends and felt relieved by his friend’s acceptance.

Trust graduated from high school in 2008, and then from Southern Connecticut State University in 2013 with a major in business. He worked at TD Bank, but decided to quit to focus on his public speaking career.

A very emotional moment for Trust was when he talked about his nephew. Amidst a lack of initial support from his family, Trust’s nephew was his biggest supporter. However, his nephew passed away at the age of eighteen due to cancer. Trust could not hold back tears as he reminisced the memories of his nephew.

Trust’s story is inspirational. Even though he struggled through so many negative ordeals, he still tries to find positivity in life. He wants to help others by giving them opportunities to succeed.

At the end, there was time for a question and answer session. One question Trust was asked was: “What have you come to understand about death as a result of your experiences?” His response was that anyone could end up dying at any moment. His experiences made him ponder about his own death and purpose in life. He said that through his struggles, he has become a stronger man.


Kevin Li is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.li@uconn.edu.