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April 05, 2023

‘Waging Peace in a Divided World’ Is Focus of AHA’s Awareness Day

The Holy Angels community recently participated in Awareness Day, a time to build knowledge of themselves and the global community. Students at AHA Middle School examined peace on a personal level, while upper school students focused on “Waging Peace in a Divided World.”


AHA Director of Mission and Ministry Joan Connelly organized the upper school event, which dovetailed with the Academy’s 2022-23 theme: “Peace is the language we must speak.” Angels in Grades 9-12 gathered to hear keynote speaker Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Nishimwe, who was 14 when Tutsis were being persecuted and murdered, shared her message of action, hope, and love.



Nishimwe noted how the people who were so intent on carrying out the genocide were neighbors, friends, and people she knew from her village and the local church. When Tutsis were being hunted, she and her family went into hiding.


Nishimwe’s mother insisted that they all pray.


“Even during hardships, I felt the presence of God,” she shared.


Nishimwe fought back tears as she recounted the shocking murders of her aunt, father, and brothers, and the sexual assault that left her HIV positive. Although she suffered great losses, Nishimwe followed her mother’s advice to avoid becoming hateful and bitter. Some of Nishimwe’s friends have no family left, a fact that led her to become a voice for others.


“Whatever you’re going through in your life, find somebody to share it with,” she told her audience. “You are not what happened to you. Never lose hope.”


An Angel asked Nishimwe what inspired her to write “Tested to the Limit: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Pain, Resilience, and Hope.” The speaker said writing her book allowed her to talk about what happened and encouraged others to tell their stories. Nishimwe is now an advocate for torture survivors.


Nishimwe received a sustained standing ovation for her heartfelt presentation.



Upper school students also learned more about the Holocaust at two workshops, one of which was led by AHA Librarian Catherine Korvin and another led by Amy Vogel; the Armenian genocide with Talin Baghdadlian (AHA ’09); and the persecution of the Rohingya and Uyghurs presented by Jennifer Cucchisi’s international studies class. This class also shared the 10 stages of genocide, which include classifying and stereotyping people, denying people’s basic rights, dehumanizing people, spreading propaganda, exterminating people, and denying the crimes.


Sister Maureen discussed the hidden crime of human trafficking. She became involved in assisting victims during her time as a pastoral associate. S. Maureen pointed out that human trafficking is all around us, and can happen to anyone. Trafficking, she said, is a form of slavery (exploitation). People who are trafficked often fall victim to broken promises of employment or romantic relationships, and may end up involved in prostitution, forced labor, and/or servitude. Victims are afraid to escape, often because they fear retaliation against their families.


Human trafficking, she shared, is more lucrative than drug trafficking. People who are vulnerable include those who are alienated or forgotten, those leaving foster care, children who are left alone on a regular basis, runaways, migrants, refugees, those with a drug habit, people desperate to earn money, and people who want love. Some victims are recruited through promises on social media, S. Maureen shared, noting pending court cases against two platforms.


Those who are attempting to make an impact include The Blue Campaign, Polaris, and Truckers Against Trafficking. Victims may call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (2337333) for aid.


S. Maureen shared stories about an unpaid, uninsured woman who was working as a nanny for a prominent person who did not want to cover her medical care, and another woman who was working in a nail salon during the day and as an “escort” at night.


Clues that something is wrong include someone constantly speaking for another person, a business where a manager tells customers not to speak English to a service provider, or a man traveling with a young person who appears scared. A flight attendant who was trained to look for signs of trafficking recently rescued a girl who had been kidnapped and was traveling with a man she did not know.


Asked how human trafficking could be curbed, S. Maureen said, “Push for much better laws. It takes work to change laws, and we all can push to change them.” The speaker commented that there is no law that states that crimes against women and children are crimes against humanity.


Current leaders of Solidarity with Haiti, a Holy Angels organization established by Janella Osbourne (AHA ’22), shared how the School Sisters of Notre Dame (AHA’s foundresses and sponsors) work with Beyond Borders to improve the lives of the Haitian people. Sophia Chounoune, Beatrice Gee, Lily Gee, Emily H. Kim, Katherine Gallagher, Stephanie Chan, and Natalie Tabbone presented videos that highlighted several Beyond Borders initiatives.


The Family Graduation Program assists families to build houses, start and maintain vegetable gardens, and manage their finances. The program provides families with animals that are ongoing sources of food (milk, eggs), and rainwater tanks that keep families from walking long distances for potable water. Beyond Borders also works to end child slavery, prevents violence against women and girls, strives for a more equitable balance of power between women and men, and ensures that children receive a quality education.


AHA Haiti Committee member and SSND Associate Kathleen Sylvester noted that when Solidarity with Haiti fundraises at Holy Angels, all of the money goes directly to help the people of Haiti thanks to Beyond Borders’ partnership with the School Sisters.


Aiko Chang, Caroline Dupas, Hannah Janiec, and Alexandra Valdez shared valuable information they learned while representing AHA at the 67th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Together, this team shared how women face discrimination in various arenas, including online. Workshop participants considered when they have seen social media used for “good,” and when they have seen women targeted (sometimes for behavior that is the same as that of their male counterparts).


The quartet discussed how Kazakhstan uses digital records, including information about each individual in a family unit, to curb violence. Until recently, women in this country had been banned from 287 professions.


The team also noted that the same solutions will not work in every country.


In their discussion of women’s empowerment, the Angels discussed how a number of women living in rural areas lack internet access and have less media literacy than women in more developed parts of the world. The Angels also discussed how girls in different parts of the world are being manipulated into thinking they should undergo female genital mutilation. They shared that, worldwide, 650,000,000 girls marry before the age of 18, and 200,000,000 experience FGM.


Laws alone are not enough, the UN representatives shared, noting that the world’s cultures must support existing laws and value women as equal humans. Those in power must be held accountable, especially when laws are not enforced, they stressed. The Angels discussed how women must be included in the solutions to global issues, and more must become lawmakers. The presenters also noted that gender equality must be viewed through an inclusive, non-binary lens.


Awareness Day was a multi-dimensional experience, and included workshop advocating an end to the death penalty by S. Eileen Reilly, SSND. Alumna Gabriela Markolovic, J.D. (AHA ’12) spoke about her work representing people on death row and clerking for a federal judge. Emily Bendaña, J.D. (AHA ’02) presented “The Invisible Wall,” a look at the USA’s asylum processes. Alumna Claire Quinn (AHA ’09) discussed global and social justice issues and helped students uncover the skills they have that they can use to advocate for positive change.


AHA Middle School Dean Traci Koval and academic counselor Michael Statile organized the Awareness Day programs for Angels in Grades 6-8. Nicole Manza, who runs a local counseling practice, discussed topics such as positive self-talk and affirmations. Workshops, which were led by middle school faculty members, included a “speed dating” style session that helped students learn to start conversations with students they didn’t know. Another session fostered communication, with one student in each group of three attempting to get two people who could not see each other to strike the same pose.