Cole Kawana

The Kindness of Strangers

At the age of 16, Cole Kawana traveled to Rwanda for an investigative journalism trip to learn more about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. While there, he made a short film, The Kindness of Strangers. The film outlines the massacre of nearly a million people over 100 days — almost a sixth of the nation’s population at the time — and also chronicled how he helped survivors by donating filters to ensure drinkable water. This led to his founding of the Clean Water Ambassadors Foundation, which donates water filters to communities in need.

A current USC sophomore who interned for the Institute, Cole’s documentary and subsequent philanthropy were inspired by how neighbors helped his great-grandparents when the United States forced them into an internment camp in 1942 because of their Japanese heritage.

Cole’s parents, Yuji and Ellen Kawana, and the rest of his extended family support USC Shoah Foundation because of their devotion to educating people about the injustices of the past — including those in this nation. Kawana’s grandparents, along with more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans, were forced into an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They had to give up their possessions and endure captivity until the war’s end. Fortunately, a Jewish neighbor kept the Kawanas’ cargo truck safe, so they could use it to rebuild their business after being released.

“The Japanese-American story of prejudice and incarceration by the United States government during World War II must be told,” Yuji says. “Its message is especially important in today’s political climate.”

The Kawanas are firm believers that current and future generations need an experience that will reinforce the need for more compassion and understanding in the world, and believe USC Shoah Foundation is achieving that.

“100 years from now, people can get the same experience with NDT as if they were talking to the survivor in person. There is a visceral feeling you get when you are in front of a survivor. “The Last Goodbye” and New Dimensions in Testimony gives you that same feeling. It creates a memory that is difficult to forget,” Cole says.