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Eyewitness Testimony: Clemantine Wamariya


When we went to all these countries, being treated like we were garbage, we were less than humans. It didn’t matter that we were a mix of Hutu and Tutsi and Twa. It didn’t matter that we were tall or short, or beautiful or ugly. It didn’t matter that we were black. It didn’t matter at all. It just matter that inside of us, we’re all trying to survive.

I have survived. And I think that everyone who has survived in anything, they should be able to be the witness to these kinds of crimes, and not let more people die because they just are people. I mean, for God’s sake—Darfur. Those are people being burned alive, those are people who have family, who are educated, who wants to help change the world. The Holocaust happened and we are so ashamed and no one did anything—we are talking about Bosnia. We are talking about Rwanda. Another one? I think maybe we need to change our system, the way we educate people. We need to teach our kids that “You’re not better than that person, you just are the same.” And so that’s why I stand up for any injustice thing, such as hunger, war, or the genocides.

Clemantine Wamariya, Survivor, Rwanda

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when the genocide began in Rwanda.

She and her sister Claire fled across the border to Burundi. They found themselves among a sea of refugees—with no immediate access to shelter, food, or other supplies. While international aid soon improved conditions, they constantly struggled to survive. Because of rumors of continued troubles inside Rwanda, they wandered from refugee camp to refugee camp for six years.

In 2000, Wamariya and her sister gained asylum in the United States, and they settled in Chicago. A year later, Wamariya learned that her parents had survived the genocide. In 2006, Wamariya won Oprah Winfrey's National High School Essay Contest that asked, "Why is Elie Wiesel's book Night relevant today?" The Oprah Winfrey Show surprised Wamariya and her sister Claire by reuniting them with their family on the show.

Wamariya has become an eloquent advocate against genocide today.