Nearly three years ago, international student Claudine Kuradusenge moved to Utah from Belgium and enrolled at Utah Valley University. She was just six years old when she moved from her home country of Rwanda to Belgium, only a few months after the 1994 Rwandan genocide began.
Now graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in communication and with minor degrees in peace and justice studies and criminal justice, the 24-year-old wants to return to Rwanda to help promote conflict reconciliation and peace-building among both tribes involved in the genocide: the Hutus and the Tutsis.
“I’m into peace and justice and conflict transformation because nobody should live what I’ve been through,” Kuradusenge said. “I remember how my baby sister died; nobody should be living that. I hope that I can try to help people. What I really want to do in the field would be [conflict] reconciliation, because we really talk about the aftermath of genocide, the fact that both tribes have to reconcile and live together. The theory and the practice are not the same.”
An estimated 200,000 people perpetrated the Rwandan genocide between April and July 1994, according to the United Human Rights Council, which resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 men, women and children.
After years of tension between the two tribes, the plane of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994 above Kigali International Airport, according to a report by the BBC News. Habyarimana was Hutu, and a French judge accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a former leader of a Tutsi rebel group, for the attack at the time. Kagame denied having any involvement, and those responsible have yet to be named.
Violence between the tribes instantly erupted following Habyarimana’s murder, and Kuradusenge was moved to Belgium in summer of 1994.
“I remember everything from the genocide, but memories before it are really blurred,” Kuradusenge said. “I remember places and feelings, but I cannot picture anybody’s face before the genocide. I cannot see their face.”
Kuradusenge’s father died when she was two, and before the genocide began, her younger sister became sick and subsequently died from illness. Tutsi soldiers killed her mother in 1997. She said her experience from living in Rwanda has influenced her decision to pursue a career in conflict reconciliation.
Michael Minch, director of the Peace and Justice Studies department at UVU, has no doubt Kuradusenge’s determination to learn and her understanding of the conflict reconciliation will help her to heal her native Rwanda.
“She has demonstrated a driven, passionate, deeply engaged commitment to conflict transformation and peace building in the classroom, and a dogged determination to learn everything she can so that she will become a powerful agent of peace and reconciliation in her home country and elsewhere,” Minch said. “This is to say that she has coupled her intellectual hunger with a moral passion, and this tenacious hunger for both knowledge and practical peace building skills will serve her very well as both a graduate student and as a professional peace builder.”
Recently accepted into the George Mason University graduate program for conflict analysis and resolution this fall, Kuradesenge is eager to apply what she’s learned so far.
“I know I won’t be able to fix everything, but at least I want to create a path of dialogue where people feel safe to sit at the same table and express their opinion without feeling like they’re going to have soldiers behind them listening to whatever they’re saying,” Kuradusenge said. “In the long-term, I’d like to open a school of dialogue and reconciliation, not just for Rwanda, but for the whole East Africa area.”