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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Writer and activist from war-torn Congo to speak at URI about genocide and his journey to America, Nov. 7

Media Contact: Elizabeth Rau, 401-874-2116

Portland, Maine resident is author of Ladder to the Moon

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 29, 2013 – How does a man who witnessed the horrors of genocide in Central Africa end up in Maine? What's more, how does he find the strength and courage to tell his story to the world?

You can find answers to those questions and more when Georges Budagu Makoko reads from his compelling memoir, Ladder to the Moon: A Journey from the Congo to America, at the University of Rhode Island.

The event will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, from 4 to 6 p.m., at the Hardge Forum in the Multicultural Center, 74 Lower College Road, on the Kingston campus. His talk is free and open to faculty, students, and the public.

"Mr. Makoko’s visit shows how committed URI is to discussing and tackling global social justice issues,'' says Earl Smith III, assistant dean of Arts and Sciences and a faculty member of Africana Studies. "His harrowing escape from genocide in the Congo is both compelling and heart wrenching – a tale of triumph over evil and human suffering. His story needs to be shared with the world.''

The conflict from 1994 to 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is considered one of the deadliest in African history: more than 6 million people died and thousands more were displaced from their homes. Skirmishes in the eastern region continue today, as rebel groups compete for control of the country’s rich natural resources, including diamonds, gold, copper, and cobalt.

Makoko is a member of the Banyamulenge — a Tutsi tribe. He was born in the southern Kivu province of Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, spent his early years living among family members in peaceful and remote mountainous villages, and later moved to the urban areas of the Congo to attend school.

He lived for many years in the Congo and Rwanda. In one especially harrowing scene in his memoir, he recounts how he and 20 others feeling the Congo crammed into a small car for a one-hour drive to Rwanda, a dangerous country but less violent than the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. The car was designed to accommodate only six people. Gun-toting soldiers at the border ordered everyone out and stole the few possessions they had left, before letting them cross.

After barely surviving the carnage, Makoko sought – and was granted - asylum in the United States, taking up residency in Portland, Maine. In 2011, he was sworn in as a citizen of the United States. He works as a property manager for a nonprofit group, Avesta Housing.

“When you are suffering, it all comes down to your perspective and how you embrace your experience,’’ Makoko writes. “You can say, ‘I am ruined, finished, a failure.’ Or, you can say, ‘This suffering must surely pass. I must fight to change this situation.’ ”

The event is sponsored by the Multicultural Center and URI’s Africana Studies. For more information, contact Earl Smith at esmithiii@uri.edu. For information about the book, visit http://laddertothemoon.net. The book is available through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

“Mr. Makoko’s lecture emanates from an Africana Studies class on genocide, which requires students to use original sources, such as Mr. Makoko’s memoirs, in the analysis of genocidal practices,’’ says Smith. “The talk represents our responsibility to prepare students as global citizens to engage the broader community about this egregious practice.’’