On Thursday, March 5, Claude Kaitare, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi minority, sat down with students in Ben Snyder’s “America and Genocide” class to share some of his experiences. As a 12-year-old in Rwanda, Kaitare lived through the horror and loss that claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans over approximately three months. He then shared his remarkable story from childhood genocide survivor to assistant college professor.
Longtime friend Ben Snyder, who met a young Kaitare when he was a junior in college says of his recurring visits, “For students to meet those who have lived recent history—with all of its complexities, pain, suffering, and hope—makes what can feel very distant to become very real. And that is some of the most powerful learning that students experience as they both bear witness and build empathy and understanding.” During Kaitare’s first visit to Nobles 15 years ago, he told students his dream was to return to Rwanda to see family and friends who were fellow survivors; he had not been back since the genocide in 1994. Those Nobles students organized fundraisers and presented Kaitare not only with funding for a trip home, but a $2,000 donation to the orphanage with which he had ties. His appreciation for that kindness and his friendship with Snyder have compelled Kaitare to come back year after year to raise awareness and understanding surrounding the factors that lead to genocide, and its immediate and long-term trauma.
In 2005, Kaitare graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History from Clark University, in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He is a 2018 graduate of the graduate certificate program with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Salem State, where he studied comparative genocide and received a prestigious fellowship. He also interned previously at Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit (with whom Nobles partners for faculty/staff development) that says of its mission, “We help students learn about hatred and bigotry so they can stop them from happening in the future.”
Tenderly sharing photos of family members and friends from just before the period in which he lost so many, Kaitare described situations from which he had narrowly escaped with his own life. During a particularly difficult moment of retelling his story, he apologized for “letting his emotions get the best of [him]” as he wept recalling the children who succumbed to fatal wounds at the orphanage where he said “caretakers became undertakers.” Revisiting these painful memories, Kaitare said, takes him right back there. The trauma is as real today as it was then.
Yet, Kaitare encourages students, “You have to think of the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang; there is a positive side to the harsh reality of war, there is good in humanity. My getting to return to Rwanda because of the goodness of that humanity, that is why I’m here.” And while Kaitare says it is important to forgive, even more important, he says, is never to forget.