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20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide: Sweet Phoenix

Written by Joel Cooper
April 8, 2014

Margaret Mukeshimana epitomizes resiliency. She has lived through hell, yet by the innocence she emanates, you might never guess she ever ventured very far from heaven on earth.

Twenty-eight year old Margaret is from Rwanda—a place where beginning twenty years ago this week, members of the long oppressed Hutu ethnic group raped and murdered almost a million of their rival Tutsis. Margaret and her mother were victims of the former—her mother also a victim of the latter.

As time passed, Margaret discovered she was infected with HIV during this inconceivable torture. She was just eight years old.

Luckily, the government made the decision to deliver free medication for her affliction, but as a consequence of her mother’s death, she became the only caregiver for her two younger siblings and was forced to drop out of school after the third grade to adequately support them. She performed household chores for a neighbor to provide basic necessities and pay for her siblings’ school fees. Unfortunately, the work was inconsistent, and she was just barely making ends meet.

Then in 2003, CWS Africa began to recognize the unique plight so prevalently suffered by the numerous Rwandan genocide victims. It teamed up with YWCA Rwanda to implement the CWS Africa Giving Hope program throughout the country’s five provinces. This program gives psychosocial support to leaders of child-headed households by facilitating mentorship, group discussion, and team entrepreneurial endeavors among the participants. Margaret discovered the program and joined Duckire Working Group, which is under the Giving Hope umbrella.

“I think what is good in [the] Giving Hope program is being part of those working groups,” Margaret commented. “Since we joined the Giving Hope program, through [the] community work we do together, through [the] mutual support we give each other in farming activities or in various activities we do as a group, that helps us to speak out all our concerns, or problems we face, or challenges we have been going though.”

Since Margaret is able to resolve her struggles with the help of her working group, she is less likely to take negative emotions back home with her and expose them to her younger siblings.

The first income generating activity CWS supported Margaret with was goat farming. From that trade, the group saved enough money to start a firewood business.

Through Margaret’s sacrifice, her siblings were able to progress through school. Her sister, Assumpta, recently graduated high school certified to become a teacher. Assumpta is presently completing national public service but is also searching for a teaching job.

With economic, psychosocial, and job skill training all provided by CWS, Margaret now trail blazes into the traditionally male dominated profession of barbering and makes about fifty US dollars a month—a good profit for her rural area. Through all this economic success, she still considers the relationships she makes in Giving Hope to be her greatest benefit.

“I could say really what is very important in psychosocial support was just being a part of the group,” Margaret related. “Because, at least you have other brothers and sisters, and you have also other mothers and fathers through mentorship programs.”

It is impossible to believe that Margaret has fully healed from the events of 1994, but through the program she has learned not to be ashamed of her past.

“I have taken [HIV/AIDS] as a normal disease,” she explained. “That is something that has happened to not only my family but to so many other Tutsis who were victims of the genocide, and other consequences of genocide.”

She finds strength through the support of her peers to wring her violation into protection for other orphans and vulnerable children in her community.

“I don’t want other people to be a victim of what I have been a victim of, so the best way to avoid that, or prevent that, is just speaking out about what happened to me and telling them the status of my life.”

With the help of CWS, her sweet smile and gentle voice cloaks resilience as strong as that of the most battle tested warrior.

Joel Cooper serves as a Global Mission Intern with Church World Service East Africa and is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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