American storyteller and human rights advocate Clemantine Wamariya fled the genocide in Rwanda when she was six years old. In Rome, she talked with university students and migrants about her experiences.
A story of suffering and hope can help those experiencing the same tragedy to feel they are not alone, says Clemantine Wamariya. Born in Kigali, Rwanda, Clemantine was six years old when the Rwandan genocide started. She fled with her sister Claire. Over the course of six years, they lived in refugee camps in seven countries in eastern and southern Africa, separated from their parents and relatives.
While in Rome, the rights advocate met with students from Catholic university LUMSA (Libera Università Maria SS. Assunta) and migrants from reception centers run by the Red Cross to talk about her experience. Dozens of people from different countries participated in the event, which was organized with the support of the US Embassy in Rome.
Three women inspire hope
Wamariya said she was ''lucky'' in life, ''but most of all I worked hard to sit here with you.'' ''Sixteen years ago, I was invisible,'' she said. The rights activist said she still can't believe she had ''wonderful neighbors'' in Rwanda who all of a sudden "decided to hate and kill each other.''
She said three women saved her life, first and foremost her mother Christine, ''a wonderful woman who always took care of anyone who was needy. In my house it didn't matter whether you were a Hutu or Tutsi, you were always welcome.''
When the war broke out, she said her mother told her family that it didn't matter where they would go or what they would do because ''we are human, we are loved''. She explained how she was forced to flee her country without her parents, only with her sister Claire, whom she described as her ''hero''. ''When I woke up in a refugee camp, I thought it was a nightmare. My sister started to scream that nobody should have been forced to live in this way and continued to scream and march for days, months.''
The sisters fled to Congo but ''weapons and bombs arrived'' there too, she said. In Congo, the activist said she met Justice, ''my second mom.'' ''She prayed every day, for all the people in the world, to stop the bombs and weapons. I had no idea until today how much strength she gave me.''
"We are all human beings"
Clemantine arrived in the United States in 2000 and received a BA in comparative literature from Yale University. She is a US citizen today. ''I look at my brothers and sisters here and I say: we must take care of each other,'' she told the audience. ''Migrants are not a business, they are people who are forced to flee to find a job, a home. Make sure that when they arrive there is someone who knows what they have experienced, who can hug them and tell them: you are home.''
Many of those present were touched by her story, including Christian, a migrant from Sierra Leone, who said attending the event was a ''blessing'' as the activist's story is a reminder of the ''memories and reasons why we are here.'' At the end of the meeting, the rights advocate said migrants should be allowed to ''come to Europe and share our imagination. We are all human beings.''
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