Meet Do Something Award Winner Jacqueline Murekatete

Jacqueline Murekatete

At the age of 9, Jacqueline became an orphan when the brutal genocide of more than a million in Rwanda robbed her of her six siblings, parents, and most of her extended family. Taken in by her uncle in America, Jacqueline founded the Human Right’s Corner in 2007 to educate people all over the world about genocides of the past. She is now working to build the Bugesera District of Rwanda community center.

Jacqueline took some time away from her amazing work to answer a few questions about her work. What person or experience sticks with you from the beginning of the process?

Jacqueline Murekatete: When I reflect on the beginning of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, I think of the time I spoke publicly about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. For about six years after the genocide, I found no words to express the horrors that had occurred in my native country, and I was unable to talk about how my family, friends, and neighbors had been killed. The turning point came during my sophomore year of high school after hearing a Holocaust survivor talk. I knew I could no longer be silent and decided to join him in speaking out against the crime of genocide. The first time I spoke publicly about my experience was very difficult; I remember crying all the way through the presentation. But from then on, I vowed never to be silent again and to start doing my part to prevent genocide and similar human rights atrocities. The idea for Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner was born that day.

DS: How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you’re addressing?

JM: During the 1994 genocide in my native country, the persistent feeling in my mind was always the lack of comprehension: How could this happen? How could people be murdered hourly, daily, weekly simply because of who they were, simply because of their ethnicity? At that time I also believed that this was an evil that had occurred only in my native land. But after coming to U.S, I was shocked to learn about Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide, and the Bosnian genocide, among others. It later became clear to me that what had happened in Rwanda in 1994 was not unique to Rwanda, and that it could happen again anywhere and to anyone. That knowledge sometimes made me feel overwhelmed and helpless and I did not know what to do. But from the Holocaust survivor I learned that I could speak about what had happened in Rwanda in hopes of preventing future genocides.

DS: How do you feel about it now?

JM: By the end of this year it will have been ten years since I began speaking out about the crime of genocide, and three years since I founded Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner. Although the current situation in Darfur, Sudan, among other present atrocities, remind me that there is still a great deal to do in the area of genocide prevention, I am more optimistic today than I was when I started out. Thanks to the efforts of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner and similar programs, more and more people have come to learn about the nature of genocide and how to fight its ideology. Because of all of this, my feelings of helplessness have turned into feelings of optimism and I am more confident that with enough work and effort, a genocide free world is indeed possible.

DS: Who is your inspiration to keep going?

JM: In my work, I continually find inspiration in many different people. I am inspired by the resilience of many of my fellow survivors in Rwanda, and survivors of other genocides who have not given up on life, and who have chosen education over silence. I am also inspired by the many young people that I meet and send me letters of gratitude for my work, and inform me about the many initiatives that they have undertaken in their schools and communities to raise awareness about the crime of genocide.

DS: Can you describe the moment you knew you were actually making a difference?

JM: I knew when I started receiving large packages full of thank you letters from middle school, high school, and college students that had heard me speak. Reading about the initiatives that these young people are undertaking at their school to fight hate, racism, anti-semitism, discrimination, and similar evils that enable genocide to take place, in response to my presentation, always makes me feel that I am making a difference. I knew I was helping Rwanda genocide survivors, when I saw pictures of the youth center that we have built in Rwanda, and received thank you emails from fellow survivors in Rwanda who were already benefitting from the project even from the early stages of construction. Because of the youth center, many young survivors were able to get construction jobs to feed themselves and their remaining families, and they will soon benefit from the variety of educational and income generating programs that the center will offer.

DS: What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project?

JM: The most difficult roadblock I faced when I was starting Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner’s was finding the right people to work with, especially with the building of our youth center in Rwanda. Because I live and go to school in U.S and I am not able to observe our project in Rwanda on the daily basis, it was crucial that I find trustworthy people to work with. There were some hurdles along the way, but we finally we got a good team together and the program is in a really good place today.

DS: What about when you were trying to grow your project?

JM: As we work to grow and expand Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, the biggest challenge is trying to balance the need for sustainability with the need for expansion, given the global and local need for our work. All of this of course requires financial resources and that also has not always been easy to obtain.

DS: What’s been the biggest lesson throughout the process?

JM: The biggest lesson for me through this process has been that behind every great success, there is a great team work. In as much as I am committed to genocide prevention, Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner would not have enjoyed the many successes that it has had without the dedication and support of many individuals, young and old.

DS: What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?

JM: What has surprised me often and at the same time inspired me is the knowledge that for the most part, when people have the opportunity to learn about an evil, they want to act. For people who have gone through genocide and experienced similar tragedies, the world can sometimes seem cold and indifferent to the pain that we have suffered. But because of the thousands of people who have embraced the work of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, I have been nicely surprised and amazed at how many people have been inspired by my work and who have joined me in fighting for a better and genocide free world.

DS: What advice do you have for other kids who are having a tough time getting their ideas off the ground?

JM: Persevere, persevere, persevere. If you have a passion for something never stop talking about it. Start with your family, friends, and then extend your message to strangers. Seek to create a team for yourself, because at the end of the day, you cannot change the world all by yourself.

DS: If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be? Why?

JM: I would have started earlier. Whenever someone comes up with an idea for a program or project, it can sometimes take time to actually believe that you can implement it, and that you can make a positive difference in the world. But when the idea finally becomes a reality and you start seeing the impact of your work, you actually wonder why you did not start the initiative earlier. When I look at how much success Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner has enjoyed I often wonder why I did not start it earlier, and how many additional people could have benefited from the programs by now.

DS: What’s next for your project?

JM: At present, Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner is really at an exciting stage. After the many successes we have enjoyed in our genocide prevention education lectures and public forums, and in light of the recent completion of our youth center in Rwanda, we are now working toward sustainability and expansion. In the area of education, we are starting to look into the development of a genocide prevention curriculum for High School students which we hope can be used in many schools throughout the US. In our efforts to help Rwanda genocide survivors to rebuild their lives, we are looking to kick off the several income generating and educational programs that our newly completed youth center in Rwanda will start to offer in the coming weeks. Once the center is running and sustaining itself, and provided we have additional funding, we then hope to build more centers in Rwanda or to start other projects that will aid genocide survivors in their ongoing struggles to rebuild their lives.