#rp17 Speaker: Clemantine Wamariya

Clemantine Wamariya, speaker at re:publica 2017, has a very touching biography. Having fled civil war in Rwanda, she eventually arrived in the US after six years, where she won a high school essay competition that kick-started her career as a storyteller and journalist.

Clemantine was born in Kibali, Rwanda, and was interested in stories at a very young age. She experienced the biggest story of her life first hand at the age of six, when the Rwandan genocide began in 1994. Forced to leave her family behind, she fled the country with her older sister. It will be 12 years before she meets her family again, this time on US soil. The sisters’ flight lasts seven years, taking them across seven nations. Finally they have some luck in Zambia where they are part of the International Organization for Migration’s resettlement program. They are permitted to emigrate to the US.     

While her sister works as a maid, Clemantine is given the opportunity to attend high school, winning a high school essay competition in 2006 upon which she is invited to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This marks the start of her “writing career”. After the show, she travels across the US, speaking in numerous universities, schools, and other organizations about her story of flight and her life as a refugee in Rwanda.

After high school, Clemantine applies for a scholarship at the Ivy League college Yale. Her advisor, not taking her seriously at first, is finally convinced by her willpower and persuasion. During her comparative literature studies, Clemantine tries out many subjects, wanting to learn more about herself and her environment.

As an active advocate for human rights, she participates in different organizations while still studying. She also speaks at various conferences, calling for refugee rights as well as more solidarity and empathy. Barack Obama acknowledges her extraordinary commitment by appointing her to the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when she is only 24. She is presently also part of the “Woman for Woman International” committee.

We look forward to Clemantine Wamariya’s gripping stories at #rp17!


Image credit: Tincon (CC BY-ND 2.0)