By Mike Bush
St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - People who stand tallest sometimes carry the heaviest burdens. At the Gatesworth Retirement community in St. Louis, Dan Rugomba is the concierge.
"Oh the residents love him, " says Executive Director Martha Kessel.
At 20 years old, he's the youngest person in the building but no one here has his experience.
"I could not believe what he had done. What a story," says Kessel.
He was born in Africa, in a small village in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We lived a simple life," says Rugomba.
The simple life became much more complicated when the Civil War that ravaged Rwanda in the 1990's, spilled over into Congo. Dan, along with his mom, dad, two brothers and two sisters, would have to run as rebels would storm his village.
"You had no second chance to rethink or organize yourself. You could grab whatever you had and move immediately," says Rugomba.
At the age of 7, he had to watch his grandfather plead for the lives of his family, only to be beaten.
"...With a big stick on his knees and they carried him away," says Regomba. "And that was the last time I ever heard about him."
It's estimated that nearly a million people died in the Rwandan genocide and tens of thousands more in Congo. One morning during a militia attack, Dan's father and mother stayed behind and told the children to run for their lives without looking back.
"Immediately we ran out and there were so many people as well in the area who were running in so many different directions," says Rugomba.
It was the last time he saw anyone in his family.
These days, Dan Rugomba shares his story, like he did in front of this group at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum in Creve Coeur, to make people more aware of his country's struggles.
He made it out of Congo and through the humanitarian group Mapendo International all the way to the United States which was always his dream.
"It's a place of opportunity as well as to advance my life and to have a new beginning," says Rugomba.
In less than three years here, he got a job, graduated from St. Mary's High School, and started raising money to send orphan children back in his home country to school. Education, Rugomba says, is the key to peace.
"If we had a greater percentage of the people get an education, it would be one way of helping people to understand and celebrate diversity," he says.
As Dan Rugomba makes a life for himself in St. Louis, he is always thinking of how to make life better back home. He believes he will see his family again one day, because the one thing he has not lost is hope.
"No matter how much darkness you have around you," says Rugomba, "as long as you have life, as long as you can stand at a distance and see the clock ticking you still have time to make a difference."
If you'd like to help Dan Rugomba help the children back in his home country, contact him with the memo line "African Genocide Reconciliation" at www.randolphworldministries.org.