This summer, Liliane Pari Umuhoza (Class of 2012, Urumuli Grade) made the trip from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, all the way to Jerusalem, Israel to intern at The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem. Learn more about Liliane's experience in our interview below.
What encouraged you to work at Yad Vashem this summer?
I was two years old when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda took a large number of my family members. I didn’t truly understand what was happening during the Genocide since I was young, but I grew up suffering from this tragedy in so many ways. Having access to psychologists and a great education at ASYV helped me heal and learn that I can do something good with my background, instead of letting it hold me back.
Last year during my first summer break from University, I went home to Rwanda for an internship at SURF (Survivors’ Fund), an organization that provides financial and emotional support to survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. As an intern at SURF, I helped implement program on economic development, livelihood security, counseling and trauma healing, and youth empowerment for the genocide survivors. Among the people I worked with were women who experienced rape and were HIV positive and/or have children born of rape due to the Genocide.
This experience motivated me to spend some time in Israel because many Holocaust survivors relocated there after World War II and it is home to the Yad Vashem museum. Since the Holocaust had many similarities to our Genocide, I wanted to go there so that I could better understand the long-term effects it has had on Jewish people. This idea led me to an internship in Israel at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Rememberance Museum.
How did you get the internship?
This was something I was really passionate about so I reached out to many contacts. One of my very good friends, who did research at Yad Vashem, eventually connected me to the Yad Vashem staff member who reviewed my CV. After an interview, I was accepted as an intern.
What was the focus of the internship?
My main focus was to learn about “trauma through generations”, which is something that Rwanda has started to face as time goes on. Today, the children that are born are very much affected by the Genocide. I know that trauma through generations cannot be prevented in a country that experienced a tragedy like the Genocide, but I believe that there are many ways it can be managed for the health of the country. One of those ways is learning from countries that experienced similar horrors to see how trauma has affected the generations born after the traumatic event and how they have been dealing with that issue.
What have you learned from the internship?
I was lucky to be part of the seminar department at Yad Vashem and had the most wonderful working environment, which gave me the chance to be part of the seminars. I gave four presentations during those seminars to different people from different parts of the world who visited Yad Vashem. I also gave a presentation to the Yad Vashem staff in my department. In seminars, I learned about the Holocaust, the history of Israel and how to teach and tell people stories of genocide. I felt very privileged to learn as well as share my story.
What have you enjoyed most about being in Israel this summer? Did anything surprise you about the country?
First of all, I enjoyed my internship because it was very interesting and I learned a lot - much more than I even expected! I had a great working environment of caring, smart people who were also fun to be around.
As a Christian, having the chance to see places that I have read about in the Bible since I was a little girl was an amazing experience! I also enjoyed traveling around Israel on my weekends. It is a beautiful country with so many fascinating sites to visit. Floating in the Dead Sea was the most exciting experience because I was convinced that I would be the first person to ever sink!
Getting the opportunity to see people that I met at ASYV nine or ten years ago was really special for me as well.
I was so surprised by the size of Israel, about the same size as Rwanda, because there are so many important sites to people, of various religions and backgrounds, around the world.
Have you been able to visit with anyone you know?
Yes - most of the visits were reunions! I met up with the first director of ASYV (Nir Lahav) and his family and we spent two hours after dinner talking about old, beautiful memories of ASYV. I saw some of the early volunteers of ASYV like Ido, Suzy, Tanya, and Shimon, who was the Director of Informal Education from 2008 to 2010. Anyone who visited ASYV and knew I was in Israel reached out to me so that we could meet up. Even some of the people that went to ASYV after my graduation reached out to me so that we could meet. This made me so happy and I told my ASYV brothers and sisters that “Once a member of the ASYV family, always a member.”
Have you experienced any challenges?
The biggest challenge was finding an apartment because they are very expensive and there aren’t very many. Also, I was there during the summer, when Israel has many tourist, which made it even harder to find an apartment. The other challenge was that some Israelis do not know English or French because Hebrew is mostly used in their schools and activities, so it was sometimes hard to find someone to ask for help or information.
Why is working at Yad Vashem important to you?
As stated by Eli Weisel: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness. “ As a genocide survivor, it was an honor to work at Yad Vashem because it is a museum that preserves the history of the Holocaust and serves as a remembrance of that tragedy. I believe that by learning from the past we can adjust the present and make the future better. In other words, we can prevent the horrible history from repeating itself.
Do you wish to return to Israel again after your internship concludes?
It is a must! I haven’t traveled much in my life but Israel comes in second, right after Rwanda, as my favorite country in the world. I absolutely love Israel! I may go back there to do some projects or just for a visit.
What are your plans after graduation from Juniata?
I always say that I want to invest in people as a future career goal. I oftentimes think about how people invested in me, seeing me as a child with potential but with limited resources. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without those people. That’s why it is my duty to give back to the world by giving that same opportunity to others so they can achieve their dreams.