I know I already wrote about this amazing African woman, but after seeing her lecture, her story justifies another post.
To remind those of you about my previous post, Dr. Elavie Ndura, a Burundian Hutu genocide survivor and scholar, came to JMU to speak about her experiences. As the president of the Justice Studies Student Organization, I thought this event would be able to bring insight to all concentrations in the justice studies major: criminal, international, and social.
As it turns out, students in other majors were just as interested in hearing her lecture.
About 200 people came to listen to her story representing not only justice studies but education, social work, sociology, international relations, political science and communication fields, among others.
After explaining a little bit about the background of the Burundian conflict, Dr. Ndura told about her personal struggle in during the 1970s. She said that her ethnicity and the breakdown of other ethnicities in Burundi really shaped her life, as well as the lives of other citizens. They were taught a distinct divide between the Hutu and the Tutsi’s, a divide which was made much more public during the Rwandan Genocide roughly two decades later. In fact, she said that a well-known ideology about the relationship between Rwanda and Burundi is that when “Rwanda catches a cold, Burundi sneezes, and vice versa.” The Burundi Genocide had much relation to the Rwandan Genocide.
Since she was a Hutu, this meant she had to struggle through education starting with the first grade because of the psychological put-downs from the teachers who were Tutsi in majority.” To add to that struggle, she said that being a woman made it even harder.
“Africa in general and Burundi in particular, being a women sometimes brings some rather interesting experiences in cultures that believe the man is in charge all the time and if you’re a woman you should just sit with the children somewhere and let the men talk and do business.”
Because of her struggle in education, she had to work extra hard to prove that she was worth something.
“I had dreams, I had dreams to be something better than I saw anywhere around.”
She had to work hard to achieve her educational dreams, dreams that seemed impossible. After her elementary school, she was sent to a city 150 north of where she grew up.
“Everyone one of the 100 plus miles, I walked”
That wasn’t the last time she traveled across country for her education. She later went to an elite high school that was about 150 miles away from her junior high school and again reached that destination by foot. She showed up to the school covered in dirt from the multiple day-long travel. When she got to the school, her name wasn’t on the roster, contrary to her acceptance forms. Her father had to beg to let her stay in school and the teachers made her prove that she was worthy to receive an education there. She did.
She says this is where she first learned about inequality. She saw people being dropped off right at the door from Mercedes cars. She thought, “I had to walk miles to get here. I’m going to compete with these children that can’t even be dropped off 2 yards away from the door?”
She wanted to try as hard as she could to beat everyone in the class and then sometime buy her own Mercedes.
After she achieved the necessary education, she went to study in England. While she was there, she found out that her husband was captured during the genocide and poisoned in prison. She considered herself lucky because since her husband was poisoned, he was given a couple months to live, as opposed to being killed immediately. She came back to spend some time with her husband before his death.
During this time, high school boys were being killed, older men were being killed. They were burying mass graves for the dead bodies. All of Dr. Ndura’s uncles were killed.
Despite those tragedies, she was able to tell humorous stories about her life. She said
“when you lead a difficult life, you have to find ways to insert happy moments because one happy moment can make you live for a long time.”
She came to the United States as a refugee, and soon found out about the racism. She said she learned the hard way about the effects of racism. Even in the United States, when her children were young, they were chased by baseball bats on several occasions. Because of that, she moved to Virginia where she now teaches at George Mason University.
Because of her struggles and her experiences, she dedicated her studies to peace education and has been working to prevent atrocities that lead to and result from genocide. At GMU, she teaches peace education and is on several committees and council that perform peace advocacy work. “I’m still dreaming. I haven’t finished,” she said.
This past August, Dr. Ndura was able to buy her own Mercedes.
What a truly remarkable African woman.