When Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai visited Lancaster in April 2017, she came to honor the area’s commitment to welcoming and resettling refugees.
Turns out, she was inspired in turn.
A chance meeting that day with Marie Claire Kaberamanzi, a young woman who had arrived in Lancaster barely a year before, has led to Kaberamanzi’s story forming a chapter in Yousafzai’s most recent book, released this week.
“We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories From Refugee Girls Around the World” features the experiences of 10 girls — including Kaberamanzi’s journey fleeing civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to a refugee camp in Zambia, to Lancaster.
And, in the only chapter not focusing on a young refugee, Church World Service volunteer Jennifer Shumway of Lancaster shares her experience welcoming the extended Kaberamanzi family to America.
“I’m excited, but not surprised, that there are Lancaster connections in Malala’s new book,” Matt Johnson says. A message from Johnson, Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace’s former chief of staff, to Yousafzai’s website was part of the spark that inspired her Lancaster visit.
“I said it during her visit, and I believe it now: Her appearance here wasn’t just about what she could bring to Lancaster. It was a chance for her to take something away from our community that could be meaningful to her global work.”
The conversations Yousafzai had with young refugees here, Johnson added, “clearly had a deep impact on her and her father,” Ziauddin, who accompanied Yousafzai on her visit. “Marie Claire is a perfect ambassador for that message.”
‘Change in my life’
There was no doubt of her answer, Marie Claire Kaberamanzi says, when Malala Fund representatives asked her to take part in the book project.
Now studying nursing at Washington Adventist University in Maryland, Kaberamanzi says the decision was simple. “I knew I had school. I knew I was busy. And I knew I had to do it” anyway.
“First of all,” she says, “I always wanted to write a book on my own. For me, it was just a dream come true, and I could (now) see writing my own book.”
Shumway, too, was certain of her decision.
“Not a lot of people are at the heart of this book,” Shumway says. “So that they thought of (Kaberamanzi) for this — I would never miss the opportunity to support Malala and Marie Claire.”
“We Are Displaced” is not the first collaboration between Kaberamanzi and Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Price laureate. Since their meeting in Lancaster nearly two years ago, Kaberamanzi has worked both with Yousafzai and with her nonprofit Malala Fund, which advocates for education for girls affected by war, poverty and discrimination. Sales of “We Are Displaced” benefit this fund.
Kaberamanzi’s story is not an easy one for her to share. Forced to flee a civil war that began the year before she was born, her family ended up in Zambia, harassed for being refugees and struggling to make a living. When she was 12, vigilantes killed her mother and gravely injured her father.
School, Kaberamanzi says, become her connection to her late mother, Furaha, who strongly pushed her daughter to pursue education.
Years after her mother applied for refugee visas through the United Nations, the Kaberamanzis were granted permission for resettlement in America, and were assigned to Lancaster.
Here, Kaberamanzi talked herself into classes at McCaskey High School, though she was already 19, and graduated six months later — the first in her family to earn a diploma.
And then, the Malala Fund came calling.
Would she join Yousafzai in an address to leaders at the United Nations?
“I knew about the U.N., but I didn’t know the real significance,” Kaberamanzi says in a telephone interview from her Maryland campus. “I didn’t really think I’d be standing in front of leaders, talking about my life and what I thought they should do about women and girls.”
Shumway, who accompanied Kaberamanzi on her trip to New York City, says she wasn’t really surprised at the impact Kaberamanzi’s words had on her audience.
“Marie Claire is such a dynamo,” says Shumway, whose family has become extremely close with the Kaberamanzis since their arrival in America. “She was, literally, a stone’s throw from the president of France and other world leaders.”
While she was in New York for that United Nations address, Kaberamanzi says, she was invited to be interviewed for the project which became “We Are Displaced.”
“I knew from then something was going to change in my life,” Kaberamanzi says. “I knew my story wouldn’t just stay in Lancaster or my school; it was going to go out to everybody.
“Sitting with very, very important people in life made me believe I can get there as well,” she adds. “So I’m doing all I can to get there.”
That includes sharing her story, she says, as a way of helping the Malala Fund advocate on behalf of other women and girls.
“(Malala) thought that maybe people didn’t know there are other girls out there with similar and incredible stories,” Kaberamanzi says. “She wanted to show that there are more girls advocating toward educating and other things we should have as women.”
Shumway, who shares in the book why she became involved with refugee resettlement, says the project “creates a small ripple in the political climate that we all have right now. It’s an important message, and very timely.”
And she also shares the impact that involvement had on her whole family once she felt compelled to become involved. She and her husband, Andrew O’Brien, share a blended family of sons Alec, Ethan, Andrew and Daniel, and daughter Lauren.
“It just washes over you how small our lives truly are in the scheme of things,” Shumway says. “This girl just a short time ago came from a refugee camp in Africa, and she’s now setting the world ablaze.
“She just needed the opportunity.”