“My classmates in the US didn’t even know where Rwanda was,” says Jacqueline Murekatete, who was nine when the genocide against the Tutsi swept through her country. Her parents and six siblings were murdered—not by strangers, but by neighbors. An uncle living in the United States took Jacqueline in, but for many years she was alone with her trauma, a quiet orphan from Africa hiding among her American school peers.
That changed when holocaust survivor David Gewirtzman visited Murekatete’s high school classroom and spoke of his own experiences with genocide. “I saw so many similarities between our stories,” she says. “And I wanted him to know what had happened to me.” Gewirtzman became the mentor and confidante she’d needed. Soon they were doing joint speaking engagements around the world, and Murekatete was finding her voice… and her purpose.
Since then Murekatete’s story has been featured by media outlets across the globe, inspiring thousands of young people to stand up against anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and hatred. She founded the Genocide Survivors Foundation, raising the voices of other survivors and seeking to visibilize—and eradicate—the bigotry that can lead to genocide. “I realize now that I am responsible to my story,” she says. “Just as we are all responsible for making a difference in this world.”