Eight members of the Professional Fellows Program from Rwanda, Africa came to Kate Todhunter’s classroom on Thursday to talk to students about the 1994 genocide that occurred in their home country.
One member of the group described the Professional Fellows as “wounded healers,” meaning that while they had been through a lot of challenges, they could use their past experiences to help others.
The discussion covered the experiences of the group members in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, their work to promote peace, and how those that live in their country have come together since the tragic event.
“We are one now,” one Rwandan visitor said. “We are united.”
“They were lovely,” said Todhunter of the visitors. “They were so relaxed and they were so happy to be here.”
Todhunter said she thought that having these guests was very important, as students could actually meet face-to-face with people that had experienced what they had learned about. “The challenge when you teach a history class is that it seems so far removed,” Todhunter said. “It’s the past. It seems like it’s not current or relevant sometimes. I think by meeting people who were there [and] by meeting people firsthand, it can really make the story more accessible, and more real, and more human.”
“I think what was most interesting was hearing about how dedicated all of [the visitors] were to rebuilding Rwanda and creating a better future, rather than letting the horrible events of the past define the country,” said senior Sarah Etzel, one of the students in attendance.
Students of Todhunter’s “History of the Holocaust” class were invited to the talk. The name “History of the Holocaust” is a little misleading, as Todhunter said the class does cover multiple modern genocides, including the one in Rwanda.
Todhunter believed that in addition to having the visitors provide a firsthand perspective on the genocide, it was also important for her students to meet with people from another culture. “I think it’s easy for us to think of Africa, Rwanda, this continent, this country as so far away, and so different, and so inaccessible,” she said. “The truth is, you had these absolutely lovely people who were survivors and willing to talk with young people.”
Rwanda is now both peaceful and stable, and all of the Professional Fellows Program members recommended that the Northampton High School students in attendance come visit.
“Rwandans are very friendly,” said Jean Paul Gatete. “We want visitors.”