Leandre Sekamana 23, a Rwandan university student, spent months wondering whether to donate Rwf3000 ($4) to a fund meant to construct a hostel to accommodate about 200 genocide orphans.
Sekamana, who was just 3 years during the genocide, is a 3rd born to Francois Ngaruye, who is serving a life sentence for killing tens of Tutsis in his village in Nyaruguru, southern Rwanda.
Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide against Tutsi that left orphans on a massive scale, the country still struggles with a legacy of homeless children, with no tuition fees and parents to look after them.
In 2009, confronted by miserable living conditions of thousands of vulnerable orphans across the country, the Rwandan Diaspora community launched a One Dollar Campaign to mobilize funds to improve their living standards, including shelter.
During the genocide, Hutu militiamen killed over one million Tutsi. Some members of Hutu family- even those who never participated in the genocide have lived with this guilt of being Hutu for years.
When the idea to build a hostel to shelter orphans of the 1994 genocide, Sekamana was excited. He learnt the news through local sector leaders.
However, this would not come easily as Sekamana’s relatives dissuaded him from contributing.
“They never wanted me to donate a penny,” he says. Sekamana says his relatives “insisted that I shouldn’t give it out. That it was a taboo in the family. But something kept ringing in his mind.
“We need a new society and help each other,” he said.
Government has initiated several programmes to reconcile Rwandans. Last year, it launched Ndi umunyarwanda program (I am a Rwandan) which so far has fostered true reconciliation and forgiveness among Rwandans.
Under the program, Rwandans who wronged other members of society seek forgiveness from the victims of genocide.
Reconciliation groups in villages have been initiated and associations composed of families of perpetrators and victims live side by side.
In some families, hatred lingers on because of their family members who are in jail over genocide crimes.
In 2010, Sekamana decided to leave his village and moved to Kigali city from where he donated the money. He faced criticism from his family but he has decided to move on.
“I wanted to build a new society above ethnicity.” He says it’s not too late. His contributions will add value and improve lives of orphans, he adds.
This year, the construction of the complex valued at Rwf1.7billion ($2.5M) was completed and is already accommodating vulnerable orphans of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against Tutsi.
A Dream Come True
Just like Sekamana, many Rwandans on October 28 smiled as they witnessed the unveiling of a 4-story building built at Kagugu in Gasabo district, Kigali. It hosts 192 vulnerable orphans-96 girls and 96 boys, aged between 20 and 25.
Inside the hostel, a female security guard welcomes visitors with a smile. Meters away from the reception, three boys and a girl are kicking a ball and suddenly run to hug us.
Next to the visitors’ room are offices for their caretakers. “We call them fathers, mothers; sisters and brothers,” Pulimitive Mukandera, an orphan says with a tinge of happiness.
With a smile on their faces, it’s hard to notice that Mukandera, 24, Ananias Mwizerwa, 23; Theoneste Uwizeyimana, 21 and Jean de Dieux Irankunda, 20 have never seen their parents.
The only time they spent with their parents was while breastfeeding their mothers, days before they were brutally killed in the genocide.
Mukandera, now a 4th year student at Kigali Institute of Management (KIM), arrived at the complex on 23rd last month, five days before it was launched.
In 2006, at the age of 14, she was ordered by her guardians to vacate home and take care of herself.
“I saw the World becoming so small,” she says. Before this hostel, orphans had no choice and would stay behind at school while their classmates would go home and get the comfort of their parents.
I just picked a call and I was told to pack my things and come here. This is a kind of life I never dreamed of,” says Mukandera. Just like her, Irankunda says, “the kind of life here is unbelievable.”
Construction of the complex commenced in 2012. The Minister of local government, Francis Kaboneka says, “The project is a proof of how collective efforts by Rwandans are paying off.”
“We pledge continuous care for the boys and girls who will live in this hostel, including moral and other necessary support,” Kaboneka told KTpress during the launch of the building.
He told orphans, “You are the strength of the nation. You need to be strong, support one another and know that this country is in your hands.”
Construction of the complex was realized in partnership with Rwanda Defence Forces, National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, Rwanda Diaspora, among others.
The beneficiaries will be staying at the hostel during school holidays. Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the Executive Secretary of National Commission for the Fight against Genocide says, “The noble act by Rwandans and their solidarity is what signifies the welfare of genocide survivors today.”
By: Dan Ngabonziza