Rev. Claudine Leary is a survivor of the Rwandan conflict of 1994. Her experience and educational opportunities provided by JRS has helped her to unite her community in aiding others. Now the Director of Development at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Executive Director and Co-founder of Watoto Read, Claudine continues to advocate for the education of children and young adults living in refugee camps in Sub Saharan Africa.
Describe your life and what was happening when you first become involved with JRS.
I’m originally from Rwanda, and I was a freshman in college when the conflict erupted. I had received a scholarship to attend this college and was excited for the future. It was by God’s grace that I made it out of the city. When I fled, I made it to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and eventually to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, where I first encountered JRS.
JRS was doing a lot of good things in the camp. The JRS staff and volunteers listened to and showed us the amazing care and compassion that we so desperately needed. They started sewing, knitting, and educational projects that disrupted our feelings of pain and despair. We had something to look forward to each day, but most importantly to me, JRS offered me a scholarship to return to college in Zimbabwe.
Where are you in your life today?
After finishing my degree in Zimbabwe, I was relocated to the United States, where I have completed two higher education degrees in Business Administration and Divinity. Professionally, I serve my church, fundraising for the Methodist Theological School.
My heart has always been with those who are left in the camp. So, in 2015, I gathered my friends and created Watoto Read, as my way of giving back. Watoto Read partners with JRS to implement educational programs. Currently, our joint work is carried out in Goz Beida, Chad, which hosts one of the most protracted and forgotten refugee situations in the world.
What difference did JRS make in your life?
JRS is the most remarkable ministry I’ve ever witnessed. JRS was with me when I needed help to make sense of what had happened and the trauma I’d been through. And they pushed me to look at the future. JRS’s impact on my life has been gradual because they did not want to do for me, but with me. I’m so glad I get to continue to work with JRS as a partner of Watoto Read.
JRS talks about walking with the people we serve and accompanying them on their journeys. What does accompaniment mean to you?
Accompany is a beautiful word. It is a deliberate journey that JRS takes with vulnerable refugees. JRS is really with refugees, people who have lost everything, until they get back on their feet and their lives restored.
This interview is part of a series recognizing our 40th Anniversary. You can find the whole series of interviews throughout the year on our international website.