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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: Raising awareness

Interview with Claude Kaitare
Rwandan Claude Kaitare '05 has witnessed history first-hand. In 1994 he fled from Rwanda after the genocide that took place in his country, and came to live with an aunt in Portland, Maine. After entering Clark he decided to major in history and specialize in Holocaust and genocide studies. In a recent interview, summarized below, Claude described the outreach he has undertaken to raise awareness of genocide.

What brought you to Clark?

It's a very long story. I was living in Rwanda with my family. One day in 1994, when I was twelve years old, the then president of Rwanda was assassinated and schools were cancelled the next day. During that day, everything changed course. First, my neighbors were killed. I witnessed people being killed on the streets for no reason except that they were from a different ethnic group. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone killed for no apparent reason.

Fortunately, my immediate family survived and I already had an aunt living in America. She was a businesswoman in Portland, Maine and traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Africa. At the end of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda she brought me, two siblings and three of my cousins here to continue our education. So I've been in the U.S. ever since, for about eight years now. I attended high school in Portland.

How did your interest in specializing in Holocaust and Genocide Studies (HGS) evolve?

Initially, I was interested in studying medicine, and I chose Clark because of its wonderful Biology Department. But my freshman year I found out about the HGS program and took a course in comparative genocide, which included a brief section on Rwanda. Since I had been an eyewitness, I was able to give my testimonial to the class. During the summer following my freshman year I participated in an internship related to the subject of genocide, and this experience changed my academic direction.

What did the internship consist of?

I worked with an organization called Facing History and Ourselves that is based in Brookline, Mass, although they also do a lot of work internationally. Facing History is a non-profit educational organization that develops programs to foster what its Web site describes as the "examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry." In addition to myself, there were about nine other interns from colleges and universities in the U.S.

As interns, we were able to see how the organization was run. We attended meetings with the directors and other people behind the scenes. I talked one-on-one with teachers who attended summer institutes to learn more about these genocides worldwide. University professors, as well as high school and middle school teachers, would come for training on how to teach this complicated subject. Because of my personal experiences, my position was somewhat different from that of my fellow interns.

Although I officially finished the internship three years ago, I still work with them, visiting and giving lectures to high schools and middle schools in the Boston area and educating people about the catastrophe of genocide, of course using Rwanda as a reference. For the past two years, I've been going to high school and middle schools. I've been working especially closely with the Noble and Greenough School where the students there took up a beneficial fundraiser and raised a good amount of money to help an orphanage, called Imbabazi, in Rwanda. The orphanage is run by an American woman, Ms. Rosamund Carr, who has been residing there since the early 1940s.

Working with Facing History has been an enriching experience for me. Being able to talk about what I saw in Rwanda has helped me to feel peace inside, that hopefully such human rights violations can be avoided in the future.

Some people say it's important to study history to prevent events like genocide from happening again. As a historian, what are your thoughts about that?

To prevent genocide is of course the goal, but the first step must be awareness. I feel that my objective, my job in life, is to raise awareness. Even though the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide took place on two very different continents with very different cultures, the two events have so much in common. Therefore, pointing to those examples, genocide can happen anywhere. Awareness is a very crucial key. When ignorance is present, there is not much that can take place, especially dealing with this subject.

If I can make people aware of what genocide has looked like in the past, then perhaps they will recognize it when they see it taking place elsewhere in the future. A perfect example, as we speak, is the Darfur region of Sudan where genocide is being carried out.

From your classes, and your own reflections and experiences, do you see similarities between different genocides?

Absolutely, and those similarities are very scary for me. Since coming to Clark, I've studied both the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and, basically, comparative genocide is now my focus of study. When I look at the Holocaust, and the way it was conducted, it's very similar to the Rwandan genocide. Whereas in Germany people were taken to concentration camps, in Rwanda they were taken to big fields (for example, soccer stadiums) and killed execution style, using guns, machetes, and primitive weapons such as big sticks. So the way the killing took place was very similar. The political ideology and propaganda were very similar, too. The Hutus said the Tutsis came from another place and did not belong in Rwanda. Nazi Germans said that the Jewish people were not real (pure) Germans. There was also a similar idea in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot that all Cambodians had to be one entity.

Do you know what you would like to do after graduation?

I'd love to continue working with the Facing History organization, or other organizations with the same goals and focus. I also want to get a master's degree, but first I'd like to take some time off and go back to Rwanda this coming summer. I've been away from my parents' country for over eight years, and I'd like to stay there, at least for a while, so that I can travel the country that I miss very much, and see the changes. It's a new Rwanda from what I left.

Procedures to reconcile the survivors of genocide, similar to those of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, are being undertaken in Rwanda. The nature of genocide needs to be understood for these procedures to work. One way or another, I see myself becoming part of this process when I return. I want to work with officials to find a way to judge the killers and to find a way to help the survivors be reconciled so that we Rwandans can live side by side as Abanyarwanda (all Rwandans), as we did for centuries before colonialism.

 

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Claude Kaitare


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