Genocide can be incredibly destructive and devastating to those targeted, but all that can be done is learn from it and attempt to move forward.

This idea was recently discussed at Keene State College on April 6.

Beata Umugwangwali, survivor of the Rwandan genocide, spoke to students about her experience with the genocide and how repairing her old school has helped her move on.

Umugwangwali, mother of three, lost her husband during the war.

“So many people died because there was no protection at all,” she said. “I felt like it was a movie, thinking maybe things will go back to normal. It took me five years to be able to tell other people what I went through.”

After her husband’s death, she and her family came to New Hampshire in 1995 to start a new life.

It was after the move when the idea to repair her old primary school came about.

“Our children were really surprised to see how bad the school was,” Umugwangwali said. She said that she was embarrassed by the state of it.

The school had no windows or doors, and supplies and conditions were lacking.

Umugwangwali and her sister, Immaculee, started the non-profit Friends of Butare with their friend and Habitat for Humanity leader, Brian Anderson, and set to work on repairs.

They began with replacing the roof, and continued to clean out then renovate the inside of the building.

Umugwangwali was very pleased with the outcome. “It’s like an American school in my hometown,” she said. Friends of Butare have made several trips to Rwanda to make additional improvements to the school. Kelly Christianson, KSC graduate, volunteered on one of these trips.

She helped students gain access to textbooks and helped them learn how to use computers.

“Most of the students, before the library, had not had any access to textbooks. Now with the library that they built, where I got to oversee a lot of the construction while I was teaching, the students are able to go into the library,” Christianson said. “From what I hear they use the library very frequently, the students love it.” She also mentioned the lack of access to the Internet in the computer lab. “I started working with a group of business owners who funded most of our trip . . . They have been purchasing Internet so the next year is paid for,” she said. Christianson has since decided to become a Peace Corps volunteer after her trip to Rwanda.

“My time with Friends of Butare in Rwanda, it was one of the best experiences of my life and it definitely led me to join the Peace Corps,” Christianson said.  Kristen Rohde, sophomore, studied the genocide in class, which she said sparked her interested of the event. “I thought it would be interesting to listen to another person’s point of view on it, who had been there,” Rohde said.

Brittany Allard, first-year, also learned about the event in class.

“I learned an individual’s story, which was interesting to me,” Allard said. “It’s really important for us to know what other people have gone through and how we can fix countries like Rwanda and make things better for the future.”

A better future is possible with organizations such as Friends of Butare.

“To overcome the past, we all have to look forward. You cannot be stuck with the past,” Umugwangwali said.“People are recovering. They are starting to forgive each other,” Christianson added.

The next Friends of Butare trip will take place this coming summer, when volunteers will be working on renovating a kitchen for a school cafeteria. Anyone interested in volunteering can learn more at

Devon Roberts can be contacted at

Share and Enjoy !