Magazine Feature / People

Genocide survivor now works to raise awareness

She speaks four languages, has four children, is looking for a publisher for her personal memoir — and she’s also a survivor and refugee of the Rwandan genocide.

Hadidja Nyiransekuye  (MSW ’00, PhD social work ’07) came to the U.S. in 1998, four years after the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

She works as a site coordinator for Denver’s Westside Family Networks and as chair of a local grassroots organization for Rwandan refugees. She stresses how important awareness of these populations is.

“The consequences of genocide are so current and global,” she says. “The issue of refugees should be of concern to everybody.”

For her PhD dissertation, Nyiransekuye recruited and worked with refugee women from Africa’s Great Lakes region to address the issue of how to most effectively provide services to those displaced from their homes.

“We don’t want people to have to leave their homes,” she says. But, in order to provide relevant and useful services, she explains, it’s imperative to understand why refugees come to the U.S. in the first place.

Nyiransekuye says they come looking for something that most people have the luxury of forgetting about: peace.

“These women say, ‘What I wanted was peace to be able to sleep through the night without waking up in fear,’” she says.

However, the cost of peace is sometimes unexpected for refugees who must rebuild their lives so far from home and confront the challenges of daily life in a new country.

Before she came to the U.S., Nyiransekuye taught applied linguistics and was the principal of the school of health sciences in Gisenyi, Rwanda; she now teaches two classes in social work and African-American studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Her children — two boys and two girls — range in age from 16 to 26. The four languages she speaks? English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda.

Through her work, Nyiransekuye says she hopes to make people realize how genocide and injustice in other parts of the world are perpetuated — for people here to realize their responsibility in what happens in the world.

And how does that responsibility play out? “Be involved, one way or another,” she says.

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