Hadidja Nyiransekuye, an assistant professor of social work in the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service, has won the prestigious Social Worker of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers that honors a member of the organization that exemplifies top-tier values and achievements.
Nyiransekuye, a refugee from Rwanda and a survivor of genocide along with her four children, specializes in policy advocacy focusing on the refugee crisis that affects communities across the globe.
“I know what it feels like to not have a home,” she said. “There are people who have helped me and opened their homes to me, for that I am grateful. I owe it to humanity to do what I can to help others.”
Nyiransekuye’s research demonstrates the problems faced by refugees that are global issues, including acts of violence and loss of freedom.
“If we don’t address these human rights violations, they will only continue,” she said. “Ninety percent of these refugees have suffered from trauma and need the opportunity to heal and rebuild.”
Nyiransekuye moved to Texas to work with refugees directly and provides her students at UNT a unique learning opportunity to acquire real-world experience in the field of social work such as working hands-on with applicable cases within their interest.
“I continue to hear from my former students about how this work has impacted their lives,” she said. “I learn as much from them as they do from me and I am honored and humbled to have received this award.”
In her next project, Nyiransekuye will work with survivors of genocide to document their experiences and produce a repository of their survival stories. She says that when trauma survivors are provided the opportunity to share their stories, it is a way for them to reconcile their experiences and begin to heal. The repository will also provide a resource for continued research and document survivors’ experiences for future generations.
“I want people to be aware that genocide, acts of violence, enslavement and terror continue to be inflicted on human beings here in the United States and around the world,” she said. “We must tell the stories of these victims, validate their experiences and tirelessly advocate for the rights of all human beings.”
Nyiransekuye’s publications include a memoir: The Lances were Looking Down: One Woman's Path Through the Rwandan Genocide to Life in the States. She is a member of the Council on Global Social Issues, a subcommittee of the Council on Social Work Education, and a member of the Refugee Congress, a standalone nonprofit by refugees for refugees and with refugees.
Nyiransekuye has also provided research and conducted interviews for the documentary film Seeking a Safe Haven: DFW Refugee Stories. The film was directed by the UNT Department of Media Arts Associate Professor Jacqueline Vickery and funded by the Council of Social Work Education and the UNT Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity.