Making a difference Juniata student, Nobel Laureate aim to inspire change

Courtesy photo by Ichiro Narita Liliane Umuhoza, originally from Rwanda and attending Juniata College, Huntingdon, poses for a photo.

At 2 years old, Liliane Umuhoza’s life changed and her family was decimated in a genocidal tidal wave across Rwanda. Now 26, Umuhoza, a senior at Juniata College, Huntingdon, seeks to inspire change — an ideal shared with a Nobel Laureate for Peace who visits in October.

“The consequences of genocide are visible and invisible. It has left deep scars,” she said. A student in Peace and Conflict Studies, Umuhoza lost her father and many other family members. It forced her mother into early widowhood and being a single parent.

“I was blessed as I had my mother and she eventually remarried and had additional children. So, I have family now. Many of my friends grew up in orphanages,” she said.

Orphaned children, widows, HIV infection and impaired mother-child relationships are among the lasting consequences for the country, she said.

So how does a Rwandan genocide survivor find herself at Juniata College more than 8,000 miles away from home?

Her journey started when she became involved in the Genocide Survivors Support Network, founded by human rights activist Eugenie Mukeshimana, herself a Rwandan genocide survivor. Mukeshimana met Umuhoza, told her about Juniata and later referred a professor and a study-abroad student to Umuhoza. She served as their guide in Rwanda. At that time, Umuhoza was applying to colleges and liked what she heard about Juniata.

The Peace and Conflict Resolution major keeps with Juniata College’s founding mission by the Church of the Brethren, referred to as a “peace church” 140 years ago and a logical host to Nobel Laureate Emily Welty.

“Emily is a dynamic speaker and committed peacebuilder and I am excited for our community to have the opportunity to engage with her and her work,” says Polly Walker, director of Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies and associate professor of Peace and Conflict Studies.

Welty earned the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2017 for her involvement, with ICAN, in the United Nations negotiations that resulted in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons.

“It’s really exciting for Juniata, a small liberal arts school, to have (Welty) here,” Umuhoza said. “I am looking foward to meeting her and I think it is good for the Juniata College community to have someone of her stature visit. It’s a good way for students to get out of their comfort zone, be aware of what is happening and start finding ways to take action,” Umuhoza said. “We need to take action against hunger, police brutality — not just genocide — but all conflict.”

In ICAN, Welty works on faith-based engagement in nuclear disarmament. She serves as the director of Peace and Justice Studies and associate professor at Pace University in New York City, where her curriculum focuses on nonviolence, humanitarianism, reconciliation and transitional justice.

The Juniata website describes Umuhoza as “a dancer, a diplomat, a peacemaker and a speechmaker.” The latter for placing as runner-up in the 2016 Bailey Oratorical Speech Contest during her freshman year.

Umuhoza does more than just talk. During April — Genocide Awareness Month — she’s organized student activities, speakers and visiting scholars.

“It’s an opportunity to share my story,” she said. “While the genocide is over, we are now learning from that and what we can do in the present to make a better future. The genocide is something that will be with me, my future children and grandchildren. I believe there is a way to prevent it from happening again and for survivors to cope with it and start moving forward in hope.”

Too often, she said, people don’t know what is happening elsewhere in the country or the world.

“I think the solution is to create awareness because some people don’t even know things are happening. Even with social media, sometimes people feel ‘who am I to address an issue?’ By creating awareness and trying the best you can, within your abilities with the people you meet … one person can make change (happen) and change the world — that’s the goal.”

Staff writer Patt Keith can be reached at 949-7030.

If you go

What: Activist, artist and Nobel Laureate Emily Welty presents “We are Unstoppable, Another World is Possible” and Q&A session about Welty’s experience in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Sponsored by the Will Judy Lectureship Fund as well as the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. Launched in 1971 through the persistence and vision of Elizabeth Evans Baker, the Baker Institute facilitates presentations by renowned speakers, conducts conflict resolution outreach, raises awareness for nonviolent solutions to contemporary challenges and sponsors peace-inspired activities and experiences for students.

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 8

Where: Alumni Hall, Brumbaugh Academic Center, Juniata College, Huntingdon

Admission: Free