Ninette Irabaruta was a participant in the Forage Center's Coastal Promise exercise in September 2018. She fled violence and political oppression from her native country Burundi and sought political asylum in the United States in 2012. She holds a degree in Liberal Studies from Southern Maine Community College, a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College and a master’s degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University. Here, she reflects on her experiences in conversation with Forage Center Administrative Specialist, Catherine Cousar.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you have overcome?
The greatest challenges I have overcome are the death of my mother at the age of four during the genocide of 1993, and the death of my father during the civil war in 1999. These two events have impacted my life beyond words, but it is not just the death of my parents that I have suffered, I lost friends, neighbors, and other relatives. Losing a loved one is the most difficult thing in the world; however, watching the murder of my precious parent has been so difficult on me, and I know that this pain will always be present for the rest of my life. The sad part is that I grew up in an environment where I was not allowed to cry or show emotion over the death of my parents, because most of the children or youth around me where orphans. There was so much death and tragedy happening all the time, that you simply buried the dead and moved on, there was no place or time for mourning.
Q: What led you to pursue a degree in sustainable international development?
Growing up in Burundi witnessing the genocide of 1993, the civil war that lasted 12 years, the starvation of children, oppression against women, government corruption, kidnappings and torture, and much more – I knew that I had a responsibility to myself, to my family, to my country, and to the world to do something to end all the atrocities. After the United Nations updated their Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, I was overwhelmed with excitement to see so many people who believed that peace and development are possible in the world including the most war-torn countries. It is because of this belief that I decided to pursue a SID degree. I have always been a positive person, but it is hard to deny how encouraging it is to have so many people with the same goals, thoughts, and ideas fighting for the same belief.
Q: What part of the Coastal Promise exercise did you find most valuable both for your current studies and future career?
The negotiations between the Costero government and the Response Specialist team were the most valuable for me. There are always two sides to every situation and it is impossible to make accurate assessments without gathering all the information first. These negotiations made it apparent how important it is to listen and absorb information before taking action. It seems to me that this is a lesson that goes beyond the coastal promise exercise and transcends into all facets of life.
Q: What is next for you after your Master's?
I have some specific goals, to work with children and youth. However, I am keeping my options open, as long as I am doing something to help change people’s lives in this world.