Jacqueline Murekatete (CAS '07) chosen for Distinguished Young Alumna Award
While many of us might have periodic concerns about politics, the job market, or even the recently unpredictable weather, most of us have never feared the possibility of genocide. Jacqueline Murekatete is a human rights activist driven by horrific memories of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda, and she is determined to see an end to the crime of genocide worldwide. A few years ago (2009) in a Huffington Post article, Jacqueline shared her memories of what it was like to witness genocide as a nine-year-old Tutsis child in Rwanda:
"How can I ever forget the day that I had to flee my home and everything I had ever known and loved if I had any chance of surviving? How can I ever forget my horror and lack of comprehension as I listened to a national radio station that encouraged my neighbors to pick up machetes and hunt my family and other Tutsis, calling us cockroaches that needed immediate extermination? How can I forget the days I spent watching men, women, and children being dragged to their death?"Now an internationally recognized human rights activist and advocate, Jacqueline is the founder of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, a program created under the umbrella of the New York-based non-profit Miracle Corners of the World (MCW). Her organization strives to educate people about the crime of genocide and provide aid to genocide survivors in Rwanda. It is in recognition of these efforts that Jacqueline Murekatete will be presented with the Distinguished Young Alumna Award at tomorrow's Alumni Awards Luncheon. We had the opportunity to talk with Jacqueline about her organization and her time at CAS.
Can you talk a bit about how you became involved with MCW in 2007, and how your involvement evolved into a partnership to form MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner?
In 2001, while a sophomore in High School, I had the opportunity to read Elie Wiesel's Night. After reading this horrific account of Dr. Wiesel's experience during the Holocaust, I was fortunate to be able to hear a holocaust survivor, David Gewirtzman speak and he encouraged me to start sharing my experience with him. I began speaking with David to high school students and college students and sharing my experience of surviving the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda as he shared his experience during the Holocaust. While a student at NYU, I spent a lot of time traveling with David and alone and sharing my experience and trying to get young people to get involved in genocide prevention work. After graduation from NYU in 2007, I decided that I wanted to take time off before going to Law School and to develop my genocide prevention work further. In addition to traveling and speaking to students about genocide prevention work, I wanted to find other ways to educate the public about genocide and also to find ways to help my fellow genocide survivors in Rwanda, who are still struggling to rebuild their lives. I thus realized that I needed an organizational framework in order to do that. It is at that time that I officially became involved with Miracle Corners of the World (MCW), a New York based nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower youths to become agents of positive change in their communities, and which was founded in 1999, by a friend of mine, Eddie Bergman, who is also an NYU Alumni. Under the umbrella of MCW, I founded MCW Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner, a program whose mission is to educate people about the crime of genocide and to help genocide survivors to rebuild their lives.
How do MCW and MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner function in relation to each other—in what ways do they work together?
MCW Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner is program under MCW. Thus MCW is the parent organization of the program and supports its genocide prevention education work and provides human and financial resources to the program in addition to those resources that are raised specifically for the program.
What are MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner’s main strategies for spreading awareness about the crime of genocide around the world?
MCW Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner's mission is two fold: (1) to educate people about the crime of genocide and (2) to help genocide survivors in Rwanda to rebuild their lives. MCW Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner carries out its educational and awareness mission through speaking engagements at schools, conferences, churches, synagogues, NGO events and at other diverse venues in US and abroad. The speaking engagements are carried out by me. We also carry out our genocide prevention and awareness work by organizing a number of genocide awareness forums in New York City which are free and open to the public and seeks to bring voices of Holocaust and survivors of different genocide to share their experiences and insights on genocide prevention. In its mission to help genocide survivors, MCW Jacqueline's Human Rights Corner has worked with MCW to raise funds for a community center in Rwanda, which today provides educational and job training programs to Rwandan youths, many of whom are genocide orphans.
Have your experiences at NYU influenced your approach towards public service in any way?
While at NYU, I took a number of classes which made me attuned to some of the current domestic and international social justice issues and helped to crystallize my passion for ensuring basic human rights for all. While at NYU, I also met a number of faculty members and classmates who have since been among my biggest supporters. Many of the people that I currently work with at MCW are themselves NYU alumni.
What made you decide to major in Politics at NYU’s College of Arts & Science?
I have always been interested in politics and International relations and I felt that a degree in politics would better inform my future human human rights work.
In 2009 you began studying at the Cardozo School of Law. How do you plan to integrate this training into your human rights efforts?
My concentration at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law has been International and comparative law. Upon graduation this May, my goal is to find opportunities to participate in the search of and implementation of more effective human rights policies and institutions.
Thus far in your career, what has been the most rewarding experience for you?
The most rewarding experience for me has always been to learn of the positive impact that my genocide prevention work has had on individuals, especially young people. Whether it be reading letters from students who write to me and tell me how they went on to start human rights clubs in their schools or traveled and volunteered in less fortunate places after hearing me speak, or whether it be hearing youths in Rwanda talk about how the MCW center in Rwanda which I help to build is benefiting them through its various services, my reward has always lied in knowing that my work is actually positively changing someone's life for the better. This is what motivates me to keep doing the work that I am doing and to always strive to find more effective ways of doing it.
Your story is so moving, and I’m sure many alumni are moved as well. Do you have any suggestions for alumni who are compelled to strengthen your cause?
They are many ways to get involved in my genocide prevention work. First we often have volunteer opportunities either our office in Manhattan, or sometimes at our community center in Rwanda. We are also always looking for individuals to organize awareness or fundraising events in their communities where we can go and share our work. Furthermore, we are always looking for ways to get our work out there to the media and other relevant entities and individuals which can help to propel it forward. Finally, we welcome financial contributions by those who are in the position to do so, and every dollar goes a long way in helping to advance our work. Interested people can learn more about how to get involved by visiting http://www.miraclecorners.org/jacquelines_human_rights_corner.htm.