The other day on NPR, I heard the voice of Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. He talked candidly about his homeland, genocide and the way the world acts (or doesn't act) in the face of so much pain and destruction. I got chills as he spoke, but getting chills isn't enough. And that's why I was happy to learn about Spring Ulmer's summer plans. She's actually doing something about fostering more truth and reconciliation in the world. For more information about Ulmer, check online.

I wanted to ask you about your summer plans.

This summer, I'm going to Rwanda, and I'm participating in a work camp. It's organized by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); it's their African Great Lakes Initiative.

So what is that?

The Friends run a number of different programs through that initiative. One is the work camp I'm participating in, building classrooms for kids who have been orphaned by the 1994 genocide. The Friends also do healing and reconciliation workshops that they run with local judges. They do anti-violence campaign projects. They have programs for women who are survivors of violence, AIDS victims, and all different kinds of help projects.

As someone who lives with a cool Quaker, I wanted to know: You aren't Quaker, are you (as the AFSC is a Quaker organization)?

No, actually, I'm not. I applied to this program in particular because of their truth and reconciliation work.


Because that's been the main theme in my life lately, whether it's from breaking up with people, like boyfriends, and trying to figure out--and this is really idiotic in comparison to genocide--how to come to a place where I'm not angry at the world or angry at someone in particular. So that's the personal part of that. And in terms of classrooms, I'm a teacher at the UA.

What do you teach?

I'm an adjunct lecturer, and I teach freshmen composition. I think what happens in the classroom often when you're discussing any type of political discourse is that students tend to become polarized. And I am really aware of that polarity, and I don't like it. I don't want to have these dichotomies that can't be worked through with communication. ... My students have made me believe in people in terms of thinking of what's happened in Rwanda, people who are post-colonially divided. How do you live with someone who's responsible for having killed someone in your family? I don't know how you live next door to that person and continue your life. And that's something I'm not just curious about; it's something I think we all need to be thinking about, because I feel like if you think you only have your own place in the world, or that the U.S. is so removed or isolated from what's going on in the world, that you're living in a dream world ... .

How did you hear about this program? What do you hope to gain from it and give to it?

I guess I've been interested in the genocide in Rwanda since I was 15.


When I was 15, I came across a book called The Silence, and it's by Gilles Peress. He's a French photographer. Now, I don't know exactly how I feel about his book, but at the time, he blew me away. He portrayed both sides and victims of the genocide, who were primarily Tutsi at the time, and he also included in that book images from when the Hutus fled the country. At least 200,000 Hutus died in refugee camps after that. ... So I've been searching for a way of going there, but being really critical of being a white person going to Africa. And I'm not going to help; I don't feel like that's my reason for going.

What do you see your reason as?

I think the reason why I picked the Friends was because the work they're doing is sustainable. It's training people in truth and reconciliation. And anybody in the world can use that skill. And so that's why I chose their project. I think too, because I teach in classrooms, I've grown up in classrooms, and I've never built a classroom. ... And so I think building a classroom makes a lot of sense to me in terms of, "OK, this is a really different way of facilitating education."

What are your expectations of this trip to Rwanda? And how long is it?

It's really short. It's a month-and-a-half at the most.

From when to when?

From the middle to end of June through July. And expectations? I don't have any expectations. What I do want to be thinking about is what happens post-genocide. Right now, there is post-genocide in the Congo; there's post-genocide in Bosnia; there's genocide in Sudan and Chad. How do you pick up after that?

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