Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg work as an incredible duo.
Montclair High School seniors Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg did something a little different for their senior option. Instead of working a regular internship like most of their classmates, Fishman and Engleberg decided that they would work on a project. They chose a volunteer project that revolved around a cause they were passionate about: the Rwandan genocide.
Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg are working on two projects that focus on the genocide. The two are working as research assistants for Lilya Panayev, a history teacher at MHS, to help her gather information for the curriculum on the Rwandan Genocide for the NJ Commission on Genocide and Holocaust Education. Engleberg and Fishman are also working closely with Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, to help her organize a retreat for survivors and their families for next summer. The retreat, according to the pair, will offer support and healing for families while celebrating Rwandan culture.
The project began when Panayev realized both Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg had interest in the area. Since Panayev had a close relationship with the two, she asked them if they would help her with the curriculum. “She then put us in contact with Miss Mukeshimana, who had just come up with the idea for the retreat, and asked to work on that as well,” explained Fishman.
The girls work at the Montclair Public Library everyday for at least three hours. “We’ve also been holding meetings with Miss Panayev and Miss Mukeshimana to touch base and expand on ideas,” added Engleberg.
For the first project, Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg are compiling primary source documents and general information on Rwandan history that goes as far back as the pre-colonial era. They are also researching the root causes of the genocide and its effects on modern day Rwanda. The second project the two have undertaken is still in its early stages of planning.
“Right now we are trying to figure out basic goals, working on a pamphlet, a Facebook page and possibly a website,” explained Fishman. “We’re also trying to get in touch with people who might be interested in donating money or resources.”
The amount of work itself isn’t difficult, but the topic they’re researching can be a little too much at times.
“It’s a very dark and depressing subject,” shared Engleberg. “We’ve encountered stories that have sent chills down our spines.”
Fishman agreed. “It’s not pleasant, but it’s important work and we feel like we should be doing it. I think we both agree that it’s a meaningful senior option that is teaching us both something about genocide and the strength of the human spirit.”
Prior to working on the project, the girls actually knew very little about what really happened in Rwanda. “You just discover so much more when you begin doing such in depth research,” explained Engleberg.
Engleberg learned quite a bit from hearing victim’s personal stories. “While reading timelines, news articles and listening to news reports is obviously informative, reading and hearing a personal story creates a much deeper connection. It is incredible to see the amount of strength these people have. What they have been through is truly unfathomable,” said Engleberg.
“I knew that 800,000 people were brutally murdered in the short span of 100 days when I started this project,” added Fishman. “But that horror didn’t become real to me until I started watching documentaries and listening to people’s incredible stories of survival.”
Both agree that it has been such an eye opening experience and has influenced their future career paths.
“Down the road I may end up having some sort of career in human rights, maybe social work,” Engleberg said. “But I’m not completely sure what I want to do yet.”
“I want to do something in the area of human rights,” Fishman explained. “I am very interested in women’s international human rights, especially after conflict, so the topic of genocide fits right in. I am considering going into non-profit work with the United Nations or becoming a social worker who works with women and children around the world who have been affected by conflict.”
Next year Emma Fishman will be attending Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. and Engleberg has deferred to Bard College in upstate New York so she can take a gap year. Both Emma Fishman and Moriah Engleberg will continue their work with the project over the summer.