Genocide Survivor Embraces Her Ordeal to Educate Others
DoSomething, headed by Fast Company columnist Nancy Lublin, has recognized five young social entrepreneurs with $10,000 grants–and one with a prize of $100,000. Fast Company will profile one of these enterprising youth each day this week.
In 1994, the year Jacqueline Murekatete turned 9, her parents, her sixsiblings, nearly all her aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family weremurdered. all of them Tutsi, they died in the massive genocide led by the Hutu government that tooksome 1 million lives in a matter of weeks. "One day everything seemed normaland then we were being called cockroaches and snakes," she recalls, stillwith some disbelief. "The plan for extermination was set."
Murekatete was one of the lucky ones. she lived. she was granted politicalasylum and came to the United States to stay with her uncle. you might haveexpected Murekatete to keep her horrific ordeal a secret, but when she was16, Murekatete began to tell her story. "A lot of students had a sense ofoutrage and a determination to contribute towards the future of this countryand the world," she says. "I suffered through things that no human beingshould have to experience and people need to know what happened."
In 2007, she started Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner through MiracleCorners of the World, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to moldingyoung people to become leaders of change. she wanted to establish a community center in Rwanda where survivors would receive help and citizens could learn about the genocide. As a recent NewYork University political science graduate, Murekatete had high hopesfor the center. she helped raise nearly half of the $200,000 needed for the center by 2008 but ran into some roadblocks. "Part of the challenge was to find people that had a shared mission and starting myown nonprofit would have been so difficult with my schedule," she says."There was also the challenge of getting funding during a recession, but I'mgrateful that people have been so receptive."
Now a rising second-year student at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law atYeshiva University, Murekatete wants to ensure that the center providesbeneficial educational programs that teach employable skills for citizens to find jobs. she also wants to make sure the center can be a resource for survivors rebuilding their lives since many lack permanentshelter and are still psychologically traumatized. Medical services remain scarce, especially for mental health.
Murekatete is resolute when describing how the center will help thegeneration that wasn¹t alive in 1994. "I want to educate young people aboutgenocide, hate, racism, and anti-Semitism through workshops and how they canprevent it from happening again," she says. "A lot of people think that whatoccurred in Rwanda was a war, and it wasn't. it was genocide. Over 1million people were killed. Civilians were taken from their homes andmurdered because of something that they couldn't change."
Thanks to her efforts so far to address something that can change–themindsets of people in Rwanda today–Murekatete was a finalist for the 2010 Do something Award,winning $10,000. she will use her grant to further the center's mission of helping survivors and developing genocide prevention kits for high school students worldwide.
In December she will do something that she hasn't done in 16 years–she willreturn to Rwanda for the first time since 1994. she will see the communitycenter for the first time, too, and observe the ways in which her hometownhas changed. "It will obviously be very difficult, particularly going backto my village and knowing some things will be the same but also realizingthat your relatives won't be there," she says. "I'm hoping to document theexperience because it's important for survivors that have lots of stories totell."
Murekatete also now has an amazing platform from which to tell them. Last weekat a glittering awards ceremony in Hollywood, she got her Do something trophy fromOscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino and proudly lifted it in the air. Murekatete'sbeaming smile was a visible testament of her remarkable journey: she survived,and she has thrived.
[Photograph by Gabriela Herman]
Topics:Innovation, Technology, Ethonomics, Do something, Do something Awards, Nancy Lublin, Jacqueline Murekatete, Human Rights Corner, Miracle Corners of the World, Jacqueline Murekatete, Rwanda, Genocide, War and Conflict, War Crimes