The world was first introduced to author and speaker Clemantine Wamariya the same day she was reintroduced to her family. It was May 2006, and Wamariya was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show after winning a national high school essay contest in which she wrote about the life-changing ordeal she endured; The Rwandan Civil War had separated Wamariya and her older sister, Claire, from the rest of their family when she was only a 6-year-old girl. She would spend 6 years of her life moving through several countries and refugees camps before finally making her way to America in 2000.
That day on The Oprah Winfrey Show—where the media mogul staged a reunion between Wamariya and her parents 12 years in the making—has defined much of her public life; she’s taken on the role of a human rights advocate for years. As she puts it, she’s received her Master's degree “in being a ‘refugee’ who is awake to her dignity and humanity.”
“I enjoy being personable with my audience and sharing my experiences,” she says of her early fame. “However, the sharing and being with people 24/7 is very exhausting. I am learning how to overcome that challenge by taking care of myself along the way.”
She finally gets to tell her story on her own terms with the 2018 memoir, “The Girl Who Smiled Beads.” It is an extraordinary story about how she overcame the traumas of genocide, borders, heartbreak, stereotypes, victimhood and even the unknown to find herself. But ultimately Wamariya says she finds her energy and inspiration from other African women. “I stand up for African women every day. I am one of them, every day,” she said. “I was raised by women all over Africa, in every country. I had at least four mothers, many sisters, and friends. I feel that their pulse, their lives are a part of me, so no moment goes by without thinking of how I can continue to better my life and theirs.”