Photo by Julia Zave

Clemantine Wamariya's 'The Girl Who Smiled Beads' Is a Story Of Survival & What Comes After

We spoke to the Rwandan author and activist about life beyond being a refugee, and the message she wants readers to take away from her memoir.

Clemantine Wamariya is the textbook definition of a "survivor"—but don't call her one.

The activist and writer spent much of her formative years in refugee camps across the continent after fleeing Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. At the age of 12 her and her sister received refugee status in the US.

Her story is undeniably affecting, one that was brought to national attention through somewhat of a spectacle when she was united with her parents at the age 18 on the Oprah show after winning an essay contest. Since then she's furthered her human rights activism, worked as a council member for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum—to which she was chosen by President Obama—and spearheaded several initiatives aimed at helping refugees.

Because of all of this, it's easy to assign the label of "survivor" to the 30-year-old activist, yet simply labelling her as such doesn't even begin to convey the fullness of her experience. She's more than just a "humanitarian success story."

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