Jean-Paul runs the Association des Etudiants et Elèves des Rescapés du Génocide (AERG). As a genocide survivor, he feels strongly connected to the mission of AERG: commemoration, rebuilding, and advocacy. He coordinates 15 university branches and close to 300 secondary chapters of AERG.
Did I mention that Jean-Paul is also a full time student?
When I asked him how he manages to run this organization, attend classes, and finish his schoolwork he replied, “AERG is my family. I am a father.”
I was shocked, “You are a father too!”
“Well, not in that sense… In AERG we have families because so many of us lost our families. And within my family, I am the dad. We have a mommy and many children.”
Albert – who set up the meeting – interjected so that Jean-Paul’s modesty did not disguise his impressive resume, “They pick the leaders, the strongest, to be the mothers and fathers.”
“So, when I have problems, I ask Mommy for help, but when the children have troubles, they come to me or Mommy. You see, it is easy when it is in your heart.”
The members – the children – of AERG have accomplished much since the organization’s founding in 1996. They have created a very complex structure with committees, boards, and four full time staff members. AERG has advocated for better education and trauma counseling for child survivors. On the way out of our meeting, I saw a wall piled high with boxes. Jean-Paul picked up and handed me one of the thousands of journals they have created and plan to distribute to child survivors so that they can record their stories.
There is lots of work to be done, but with Jean-Paul at the helm, there is great hope for AERG. There was no beating around the bush as he clearly articulated AERG’s needs – a website with a blog, a better way to collect data and store information, “chum” as we call it in Iowa, assistance with advocacy, and strategies to build a stronger constituency.
Listening to Jean-Paul brought back fond memories of my three years working with the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. As the Outreach Coordinator, I worked with the incredibly motivated and intelligent students that built STAND from the ground up into an international student movement fighting to end genocide. Immediately, I started thinking about ways to connect AERG with STAND and use some of STAND’s infrastructure to help AERG grow. Just as when I worked with STAND, Jean-Paul and the mission of AERG motivates and inspires me. I think over the coming months we will do great work together.
Posted By Lisa Rogoff
Posted Jun 8th, 2009