2016 PFIG Recipient Elissa Boghosian

Career Administrator
2016 PFIG Recipient Elissa Boghosian

2016 PFIG Recipient Elissa BoghosianJournal Entry #1

During the 2016 spring semester, I studied post-genocide peacebuilding and reconstruction in Rwanda. This summer, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to return to Rwanda as an intern for the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG). Under the mandate of the Rwandan Government, CNLG operates with a headquarters in Kigali and a mission of preventing and fighting against genocide and genocide ideology while strengthening national unity and reconciliation. CNLG advocates on behalf of genocide survivors while developing strategies to address the many consequences of genocide, including both physical and emotional trauma. Finally, CNLG is responsible for the organization of nation-wide commemoration events for the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi.

For these next eight weeks, I will live in a house in Mushimire, a ten-minute commute by moto to the office. As an intern at CNLG, I work directly under Jean-Damascène Gasanabo, Director General in charge of the Research and Documentation Center. This branch of CNLG specializes in studies related to genocide denial, genocide prevention, and post-genocide effects and recovery programs. I arrived in Rwanda exactly one week ago, and I have been tasked with a multitude of projects. A majority of my work thus far has involved editing documents and future publications as well as drafting memos, abstracts for articles, and speeches for various commemoration events. One of my current projects involves a policy memo about strategies to improve the cohesion and effectiveness of the Research and Documentation Center. For my second project, I have just completed an abstract for an upcoming publication about the ways in which the conservation of human remains and genocide artifacts ensure the preservation of memory.

This internship with CNLG is particularly meaningful to me, as I aspire to focus my career in post-conflict nation-building. I have already enjoyed many lengthy discussions with my boss about a variety of topics ranging from the importance of the national education curriculum in post-genocide states to the specific scientific methods that forensic anthropologists use to preserve the bodies of genocide victims.

I spend my occasional free time studying Kinyarwanda— mvuga ikinyarwanda gike, ariko ndimo kwiga. (I speak a little Kinyarwanda, but I am learning.) On Tuesday, I will attend the screening of a rescuer’s testimony during genocide, followed by a discussion at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I hope to use my time in Rwanda to attend conferences and genocide commemoration events, museums and memorials. I want to genuinely engage with the community in Kigali and learn from each individual’s life experiences. As for specific aspirations for my internship, I yearn for the opportunity to continue developing my critical-thinking and analytic skills, to advance my education about post-genocide Rwanda, and to hone my writing skills. I am eager to return to the United States and share the moving, emotional testimonies of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace that I have witnessed in Rwanda.

Journal Entry #2

Today marks the halfway point in my internship with CNLG. From visits to the northern province to dinners with my host family, I have been enjoying this wonderful opportunity to return to Rwanda and learn from the people here.

For an update on my current work as a CNLG research assistant, I have been tasked to write a research paper with my co-worker Eva from Yale. The paper corresponds to the abstract that I wrote several weeks, focusing on the role of conservation in the post-genocide context. This paper will be published in an academic journal and presented at a workshop in August for a collaborative project between CNLG and international forensic anthropologists. I have written memos to Rwandan Ministers, completed a research paper on Inyangamugayo judges during Gacaca, and edited a publication about the role of Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Rwanda’s National Educational Curriculum. Eva and I have written a document that outlines CNLG’s work in maintaining a mutual peace and security pact in the Northern Corridor. We have also begun work on a paper about international justice mechanisms with a particular focus on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Gacaca.

My time in Rwanda has been enriched by my work as well as by exploration. My boss views the concept of an ‘internship’ as an opportunity for students to gain work experience in an office while also expanding their knowledge about genocide through experiential learning. Thus, I have made several trips to the Genocide Archives in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, attended the Ubumuntu (Humanity) Arts Festival, and visited the ‘Peace Makers’ Exhibition’ that featured art from secondary school students about the genocide and peacebuilding. A few weeks ago, several friends and I visited the former President Habyarimana’s house— the home of the Hutu extremist leader who played an integral role in the orchestrating of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Working in the office has been an incredibly powerful experience both in learning about the genocide and in hearing firsthand testimonies of genocide survivors. My experience has taught me that domestic justice mechanisms rooted in tradition can hold just as much legal legitimacy as international justice mechanisms. I have learned about the ability of testimony to inspire social change and preserve memory. I have witnessed the role of art in the reconciliation process, and I have seen the importance of peace and values based education that teaches children from young ages about how to peacefully resolve conflict and how to combat discriminatory ideology. 

Journal Entry #3

After a week of acclimating to life back in the United States, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my experience in Rwanda this summer, appreciating the lessons that I learned and the challenges that I faced. At the beginning of August, I returned to Masaka, a considerably rural area of Kigali that borders the Eastern Province. Here, I lived once more with my homestay family, commuting thirty minutes to work each day. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to reunite with my family and enjoy each other’s company, from cooking meals together in our outdoor kitchen to carrying water from the nearby pump and washing clothes by hand with my sisters.

During these final weeks with regard to my internship, I primarily focused on completing the publication about conservation and finalizing the policy proposal outlining five target objectives for the improvement of the Research and Documentation Centre at CNLG. I frequented the Genocide Archives at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial, utilizing the library of books as additional sources of information for the publication. During my final visit to the archives, I met Carl Wilkens, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Despite the widespread international inaction and multiple offers to evacuate him from Rwanda, Carl Wilkens refused to abandon the nation, and his courage allowed him to save the lives of over 400 people at the Gisimba Orphanage. Carl Wilkens represents just one of the many extraordinary individuals whom I had the incredible opportunity to meet and learn from their character, their wisdom, and their commitment to humanity.

Through my work at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, I have expanded my knowledge about Rwanda’s distinct strategies for memorializing the genocide and strengthening the nation. I have learned about the unique ability of memory to bind itself to objects and attach itself to spaces, allowing the conservation of genocide artifacts and maintenance of memorial sites to ensure that a history and its memory are preserved. And, I have witnessed how initiatives like Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan) have contributed to national unity, eliminating divisive ethnic identities and uniting Rwandans around their shared culture, language, and history. Participating in community activities like umuganda has enabled me to experience the ways that the decentralized government structure fosters reconciliation by offering platforms that encourage community involvement toward a common goal.

Although readjusting to life as a college student at UVA has been difficult, I am eager to share the information I have learned in my classes, and I look forward to the next opportunity that I will have to return to East Africa and study transitional justice and peace building. My experience this summer has inspired my passion for public service while also teaching me that, in an era of globalization, Rwanda has much to offer the international community as a model for successful development and national reconciliation after conflict.

I would like to extend many heartfelt thanks to the Parent’s Fund Internship Grant for making my summer experience possible.