SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Clemantine Wamariya

Date: 11 June 2018Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 11 June 2018Time: 7:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: MEET 116

Type of Event: Seminar

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were thunder. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive.

When Clemantine was twelve, she and her sister were granted refugee status in the United States; there, in Chicago, their lives diverged. Though their bond remained unbreakable, Claire, who had for so long protected and provided for Clemantine, was a single mother struggling to make ends meet, while Clemantine was taken in by a family who raised her as their own. She seemed—at least on the surface—to live the American dream: attending private school, taking up cheerleading, and, ultimately, graduating from Yale. Yet the years of being treated as less than human, of going hungry and seeing death, could not be erased. She felt at the same time six years old and one hundred years old.

In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

Speaker: Clemantine Wamariya
Chair: Yovanka Paquete Perdigao

Speakers bio:

Clemantine is a storyteller and human rights advocate. She's committed to inspiring others through the power and art of storytelling. Her personal account of her childhood in Rwanda, displacement throughout war-torn countries, and experiences in various refugee camps have encouraged myriads of people to persevere despite great odds. Clemantine has been telling her story and speaking for over 10 years. She has been a four-time guest on The Oprah Show, and a speaker at the Forbes Summit and TEDx, as well as at numerous universities and distinguished organizations. In 2011, President Obama appointed her to the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, making her the youngest board member in the organization’s history. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organization recently described Clemantine as “a compelling storyteller and fierce advocate.” Her Medium article “Everything is Yours, Everything is Not Yours,”was called “superb and artful” by The New York Times.

Yovanka is a Bissau-Guinean writer, editor and translator based in London. Born in Lisbon and raised in Ivory Coast and Senegal, her work is inspired by her experiences as a child refugee. Her poetry has been published in Brittle Paper, her translations in Jalada and her writing in the Guardian, AFREADA, English Pen. She has also founded Terra Crioula, a literary platform for Portuguese African writers and is 1/3 of the acclaimed literary podcast "Not Another Book Podcast ".

Contact email: