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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
The Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies provides students from a variety of majors with opportunities outside the classroom to study the phenomenon of genocide. Read about students who participated in summer internships and the Prague-Terezin Program.

Meet the interns: Becoming part of the solution

Interview with Sara Brown
Political Science major Sara Brown '05 undertook a summer internship in Rwanda, funded in part by Clark's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Sara described how the internship allowed her to use what she had learned about genocide in her classes to help with the reconciliation process going on in Rwanda.

Why did you seek out an internship in Rwanda?

When I first began taking classes in Holocaust and genocide studies at Clark, Rwanda was the first case that I was introduced to. It just stuck with me after that and I have been studying it ever since.

How did you find an internship, and what did it consist of?

I researched non-government organizations in Rwanda that were working on prevention of human rights abuse, and came across the AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Project in Rwanda. I sent my resume and a cover letter, and was accepted for a seven-week internship, which took place between June 9-July 25, 2004.

The Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) has a partnership with the Rwandan government's Gacaca courts (a traditional system of justice) to train Gacaca personnel. I wrote a section of the training manual for the Gacaca Ministers of Justice that focused on the definition of genocide. I helped facilitate their trainings throughout the country and applied this definition to the Gacaca's work, which included prosecuting perpetrators of genocide.

Can you give an example of what you would do on a typical day?

On a day when we had training sessions, I would meet with my translator and fellow facilitator, Eddy, and we would make our way to the local sector's administrative offices. We would go through the morning introductions, lay out the schedule for the day, and begin the various exercises that would last all day. All of this was done in the local language, Kinyarwanda, which would be translated into English for me.

An example of one of the exercises was a simulated argument. Two or more people would bring an issue to one of the Gacaca trainees. A common issue was that a young couple wish to marry but their parents are opposed as the young man's father had killed members of the young woman's family during the genocide in 1994. The Gacaca trainee acts as the mediator, trying to reach a non-violent solution to the problem. They talk it out, the father confesses, apologizes, and would sometimes offer monetary compensation for land that was destroyed or cattle, and the couple marry. This exercise would always end on a happy note. We did the exercise with multiple groups. Of course, it was an ideal ending to the situation and not the everyday outcome. Afterwards, everyone would reflect on the exercise and talk it out.

Another common exercise addressed corruption in the courts and the importance of not accepting bribes.

We conducted various exercises throughout the day, getting feedback and personal responses at the end of each. We always tied their experiences back into two themes: nonviolent reconciliation and a positive transformation of power.

Was there any particular experience you had while in Rwanda that was especially memorable?

I traveled to a number of genocide memorials throughout Rwanda during my stay. One of the sites I visited was a church in Nyamata, a village just south of Kigali, the capital. I was accompanied by my AVP colleague, Eddy. Ten thousand people were killed in just five days as they tried to seek refuge within the church. Another 20,000 were killed just outside in the surrounding compound. We were there, walking through the site, looking upon shelves filled with skulls, recently unearthed cadavers, and miscellaneous bones, when suddenly I realized that Eddy had family buried there--parents, older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He had taken me there to share with me his loss and to show me the personal side of the genocide. Then and there is when it went beyond statistics and a textbook to become real and personal.

Do you feel your internship provided a way for you to learn about genocide that you wouldn't have had in a classroom setting?

Through my studies, I had learned about Rwanda and the genocide that took over 800,000 lives in three months during 1994. But it is an entirely different experience to actually go to the country, live amongst its people, and see for yourself the sites commemorating the horror. Overall, my experience was rich and rewarding, and really impressed upon me the need for people to protest human rights abuse and genocide. This experience helped to strengthen my convictions and course of study. I was able to see the fruit of my studies up close and personal.

Were you happy with the level of support you received from the people in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program?

I owe so much to the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Without them, I would not have been able to finance this internship. I would particularly like to thank the Belfer Foundation in NYC that donated money to the Center.

The support that I received from my professors, namely Professors Shelly Tenenbaum and Debórah Dwork, really drove me to research and create the position that I held in Rwanda. I really admire everything that this Center stands for. They went above and beyond the standard professor/student relationship. Professor Tenenbaum even provided support from abroad, keeping in touch via email to check on me and my progress. I could not have asked for more.

 

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Eddy and Sara. Eddy was assistant director of AVP-Rwanda and Sara's translator.
Esther (left), a Kenyan woman who was wonderful to Sara and owns a convenience store in Kibuye.
Sara holding a baby girl, Claudine, during a home visit in the Kibungo Province of Rwanda.
Baking in Rwanda was never boring -- we made our own oven!


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