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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Clemantine Wamariya Interview

In 1994 the Rwandan genocide began, it was a mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.

Clemantine Wamariya  who was six, and her older sister Claire were barely able to escape when soldiers came to their home. The young girls were separated from their family and lived on the run in refugee camps in seven different countries. Clemantine and Claire lived in eight countries and five different refugee camps since 1994.

By miracle, they were able to escape the killing in Rwanda and found themselves in Burundi. They then moved to The Democratic of Congo for a year to start a new life; but then war began there as well so they fled to Tanzania and lived there for a few months.

In the refugee camps people were starving to death, diseases were taking the lives of people every day, there was no way out for many people. Next they went to Malawi before heading to Mozambique for a few months. They moved to South Africa soon after and stayed for few years. After a few years of peace, they tried to head back to Rwanda but got caught in another war in Congo in 1998.

They ended up in Zambia until the International Organization for Migration (OIM) brought them to Chicago in 2000. At the age of thirteen Clemantine began her formal education and amazingly went on to graduate from Yale University in 2014, with a degree in comparative literature.

What you've gone thru, many Americans cannot even fathom. How do you feel your story should impact those of us that normally feel so removed from such atrocities? 
 We need to examine our humanity and come up with innovative ways to understand each other. I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to encourage us to work together. Human beings are capable of a lot more than they believe. There’s beauty in good, even though there’s evil and hate, there’s beauty in all of us.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
 I see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. The main challenge for me now is to decide what I want to do next. First and foremost, I want to make sure that I remember to care for myself even while taking care of others. I am mentoring many students all over Africa and the US right now. Unfortunately, I never have enough time in a day and sometimes energy. I wish I had someone who can help me manage my crazy and wild life! To me nothing is impossible if you allow your imagination to run wild, why not!

What advice can you give to people struggling to overcome adversity?
Taking action is the opposite side of hate. After all, imagination can only take us so far. I do believe in the power of imagination, but I also believe in the power of work and the power of gratitude. If you want to see your circumstances change, take action.

What is one of the greatest life lessons you've learned?
This advice came from my sister Claire, " We must carefully learn all kinds of ways to survive and thrive in our given lives with every resources, tools and people we have around us" 

                     What is the greatest challenge you are facing right now?
My greatest challenge is having other people try to tell me who they think I should be. With all the respect I have for them, it’s hard not to listen. I can see clearly who I want to be and the challenge is to convince these people of that. I feel like a lot of people can probably relate with me on this. I will say I’m tackling the challenge though. I want to be the Clemantine who won’t shut up about poverty, oppression, and wars. I keep choosing that Clemantine and I hope that it will be enough. 

 Where's your happy place? 
Wherever/whenever I am around kind, loving and caring people. People bring me joy. All kinds of people. I am attracted to people who love life. I love hearing people’s stories. Everyone has a unique story and a different way of telling it. You get someone’s story from their hand gestures, their accent, or the emotion in their voice. I could listen to people telling their stories all day.
 What are you most grateful for?   
People and opportunities that enable me to serve people all over the world.
Where will Clemantine be ten years from now? 
I take life one day at a time, focusing on today. Tomorrow is a mystery.
 Lastly, whats your personal motto?  
Ben Okri quote "The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering."  Knowing truth in myself and others. 

Clemantine serves as a board member of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, based on an appointment by President Obama himself. Recently, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization described Clemantine as “a compelling storyteller and fierce advocate for girls worldwide.”

To see Clemantine's reunion with her family on the Oprah show click the link below!

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