Last Thursday NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story that transcends its premise. The feature introduced the youngest person selected to the board of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Although the story stems from Clemantine Wamariya’s appointment, host Rene Montagne probes into Wamariya’s experiences as a refugee fleeing Rwanda.
This story felt especially suited to radio broadcast. Montagne’s questions and Wamariya’s articulate, yet emotionally rich responses convey the intensity of her experience.
To set the tone, Montagne begins, “Clemantine Wamariya knows more about death than a young woman should.” Through the story, Wamariya demonstrates that she has in fact experienced fear and horror foreign to most 23-year-olds.
Together, the interviewer and the interviewee, in just six minutes, explore the genocide and refugee experience. And they touch on the peace that comes from pleasant memories of mango trees.
Wamariya briefly recounts her experience escaping pursuers inRwanda, and then elaborates on what that experience inspired in her. Since she arrived in the U.S. in junior high, she has been exploring intensive questions about human nature and violence.
“I have received an education, but it’s more to learn about others. You know, why we do things to each other as the way we do, such as killing a whole race. What does that really mean? … I’ve been hunting it down, trying to understand psychologically why do humans do such terrible things to each other,” she said.
The emotional climax of the story arrives after Montagne asks, “Is there a particular person who didn’t survive that you think about or that you want especially to be remembered?”
Wamariya waits, then says in her soft, rhythmic voice, “There are too many.” And she pauses again before continuing.
This moment reminded me of the emotional impact possible through radio. The emotion relies on a powerful premise, provocative questions, and thoughtful responses.
This story manages to cover changes to the Holocaust Museum board; revisit conflicts on Rwanda now absent in the news; and tell the remarkable story of a 23-year-old who has experienced horrors of this world. Listeners feel that Wamariya triumphs at the end of this story, because she survived to seek understanding and share her experiences with the museum and with us.