Civil war and genocide hardly sound like good topics for a children’s summer camp, but on Friday afternoon the former Speaker of the Rwandan Parliament addressed the Sense of Wonder Camp in Vineyard Haven about just those subjects, framing his remarks with suggestions on how to live well in the world.

Joseph Sebarenzi presented a simple message to the kids: be kind like a dove, fly high like an eagle and work hard like a bee.

A father of five, this is the message that Mr. Sebarenzi tells to his own children, he said.

He was born in 1963 during the earliest period of conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu people that much later led to the Rwandan Civil War in the 1990s.

He recounted memories of his childhood to the audience of rapt young faces on Friday.

“I remember my mother telling me about how we had to go sleep in the bush during the night and she told me that when I was a baby she had to take me in the bush and we stayed there at night for weeks. The reason we did this is that if we had stayed in the house we would have been killed. And I remember someone here asking me how many people I lost in the war in Rwanda. I actually lost my father in the genocide, I lost my mother and I lost my seven siblings, my sisters and brothers,” he said.

Many of his extended family also died in the genocide. He has one surviving brother and one sister, both of whom now live in the United States.

After briefly recounting his history, he gave the children in the camp run by Pam Benjamin his message with an explanation. Be kind like a dove means that the more kindness you give to others, the more inner peace you will have yourself. Fly high like an eagle means that you should aspire to live on high moral ground and aspire to your biggest dreams in life. Work hard like a bee means that in order to make the honey of life and do well in the world, you must work hard like the bee does.

He gave the kids time to allow the message to sink in.

“You must be kind like a what?” he asked the group.

“A dove!” the group shouted back.

On Saturday Mr. Sebarenzi gave a one-hour talk at the Howes House to a group of more then 50 adults. Mrs. Benjamin and Paddy Moore organized the talk. In it he went into a detailed account of his inner transformation that resulted after his family had been killed in the genocide.

During his life he has gone into exile from Rwanda three times, he said. The first time was in 1974 after the military coup lead by Juvenal Habyarimana overthrew the existing government. The second time was in 1991 during the Rwandan Civil War and before the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

After he lost his family in the genocide, he went through a period of being angry — so angry that he had trouble sleeping, felt like his health was weakening and had trouble going about his daily life, he said. This led him to question the validity of taking revenge or staying angry at the people who killed his family. He said he found his way back to inner peace through finding justifications for letting go of resentment.

“In my personal life I came up with three reasons why we should really move toward forgiveness and reconciliation instead of revenge,” he said. “And those are peace for future generations, because . . . by working toward peace you help break the cycle of violence, you show compassion to future generations so they can live in peace. Another reason has to do with my faith — your faith — which tells us to do our best to overcome the evil done to us with something good. And another reason, of course, is about our health. If we harbor anger, bitterness, we are basically harming ourself so we should find ways to get rid of that bitterness, that anger, and that’s why I decided to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Armed with this outlook on life, he went into government to try to put some of the values that had helped him heal into policy at a governmental level. He became the Speaker of the Rwandan Parliament in 1997 and stayed there until 2000, when he learned of a plot to assassinate him. He promptly left the country and came to the United States, where he was forced once again to learn a new language in a foreign country where he was in exile. He has not returned to Rwanda since that time.

Mr. Sebarenzi has earned his master’s degree in international and intercultural management and has earned a PhD in law. He currently lives outside of Washington, D.C., and lectures around the country about reconciliation and conflict management. He recently completed a book titled God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation, that recounts the story of his life and how he came to the realization that forgiveness and reconciliation were the best responses to lingering resentment and anger.

One of the reasons he was enthusiastic about talking to the kids at Sense of Wonder Camp is that he believes educating young people about good values based on peace is something that ought to happen in schools.

“I say [in my book] we should introduce peace education in elementary school, in high school, in colleges,” he said. “Because when you really educate young people, you help them understand those values and especially understand the benefit of those values, they will take them. There is a proverb in Kenya, one that says . . . it’s easy to bend a tree when it’s young, but if it’s old, it’s hard. So meaning, if we can bend our kids in a way when they are very young we will most likely have good human beings, peaceful human beings, and this world will be a better world.”