AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a way to raise awareness for clean water in Burundi — a country in Africa — Central Texans carried heavy jugs of water from Town Lake to the Texas State Capitol on Friday. Gilbert Tuhabonye joined KXAN News at 4 p.m. for a live interview.
Read a transcription of the discussion below or watch the interview in the video player above. Some responses have been edited for clarity.
Sanders: Well, a truly transformational day here in Central Texas for Central Texans as they carried heavy jugs of water from Town Lake to the state capitol to raise awareness about the need for clean water in Burundi, a country in Africa. Now this is all in honor of all American retired professional runner Gilbert Tuhabonye, and he is a role model and a coach to people not only here in Austin, but around the world. So he is also a genocide survivor, escaping a horrific massacre in Africa, witnessing mass murder and barely escaping his own death. It’s his 30th anniversary of life happening tomorrow. And he is joining us now in the studio today. Thank you so much. You had a busy morning. So thank you for being with us today.
Tuhabonye: Thank you for having me. Today is very special. I cry every time. I was telling my wife last night that every time like that October the 21st, it was a Thursday, something always tells me that I’m okay. But I’m always calm. Again, thank you for having me.
Sanders: So, you literally and figuratively ran for your life. And you escaped your death during this genocide. And so how were you able to transition from that pain to the hope you feel now you say run for joy, and the love and the forgiveness that you feel in this season of your life?
Tuhabonye: What happened was that October 21, 1993, when I was in a bad, you know, trying to heal emotionally and physically. One thing that helped me to, to survive was to learn how to forgive. Learn how to forgive my enemy so I can move on to create a heart, a peace, in my heart. You cannot live a life full of joy if your heart is heavy with hate and anger, you learn you got to learn how to move on. That helped me the most in running. I ran to fetch water for my family. I ran to school, I ran for college, I ran as a professional now I run for joy and with joy.
Sanders: And in 1993, you were a junior in high school.
Tuhabonye: I was a senior.
Sanders: A senior in high school. So, you had to run out of your classroom and your body was on fire.
Tuhabonye: So it’s a long story. But what happened, that day a president was assassinated, and inactive retaliation. My school was attacked. We had two major tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsis, the Hutu came to my school and put it every Tutsi they could find in a burning I mean, set the building on fire. We were roped together in a death-march walk in this building, they had designated for burning children, teacher, villagers, any tools they could find. I spent eight hours in that building. As you can see, I have 3rd degree burn my arm my back. And luckily, I survived. That is why today is a special moment to be able to walk with my fellow citizen and countrymen to walk with, you know, a mile of carrying a jug to is a symbol to bring hope and awareness to what I’m doing to change the world to transform lives. Back where I come from in Burundi.
Sanders: Truly transformational. We see these pictures, we see the smiles like you said, just the joy. Walk me through today. And you all started it Town Lake and went to the Capitol.
Tuhabonye: Yeah, we met the Mañana Coffee Shop, which is where my office is. And we walk to town lake under South First bridge, we fetch water, and then we walk trail to Congress and and to get as a group. And then when we get at the Capitol, we dumped the water. We fed the trees and the grasses and we came home and that’s how we celebrate. People like why do you do that? There’s a way to celebrate birthdays. For me, it’s very meaningful growing up in Burundi. I was fetching water every morning. And every afternoon after school children is still doing children and women are still in doing that today. So I have co-founded it because their foundation and their mission is to provide a clean water to the villages so children and women don’t have to waste time to go fetch water. We put a water close to homes. It’s a transformation of villages.
Sanders: And speaking of the Gazelle Foundation, you all have a very big event, probably your biggest fundraiser coming up on November 5. And I’ve been told that even if people don’t run, they can still participate. It’s for all fitness levels.
Tuhabonye: Correct. Nov. 5, we have run for the water. This is 17 years. We’ve been doing this for 17 years, and there’s a 10-miler, and then there’s a 5k. And there’s a kids K, we try to bring family together. And it’s always amazing for me to see people coming together to help us because they believe to what we’ve done. We have helped more than 128,000 people are getting clean water, you know, 5,000, close to 5,000 churches and schools, having the clean water in the school. It’s a huge privilege and honor to see the community of Austin, join us because there’ll be even a cause. This is a calling to all of you, Austin, Nov. 5, Nov. 5, we have to see you we have a big goal to transform more lives in Burundi.
Sanders: And if you would like to register, we’ll put that information on our website at kxan.com. Lastly, Gilbert, as we wrap up, what is your message to people? It’s so funny, we were talking earlier before we came on camera, but you said run with joy. That’s your mantra. So what’s your message for people who might be dealing with tragedy who might be dealing with pain, but they to look at you and your story, and it shows that they can escape that?
Tuhabonye: First of all, look what I went through, think about being in a burning building for eight hours. I escaped because I didn’t give up. Number one is don’t give up. If you’re struggling, there’s someone out there can help you. I hear this all the time when people say ‘I can’t run, my knees,’ but it isn’t. But I think if you ask a professional, they will be able to assist you to help you if you wanted to be able to move on. What happened for me is I run with joy because I’ve tried everything. I ran to fetch water for my family. It was a way of life. And in a way I read when I was in fire trying to survive trying to fight the enemy. And I was also in the hospital for three months while healing trying to fight to get back my feet back to running. Right now I run with joy. I believe if you enjoy what you’re doing, there is no way you’re going to find the joy you have to enjoy first. So my message to all of you run with joy.
More information about the run and registration is available online.