Rukundo Antoinne was born in Rwanda in 1992. At two years old, his parents sensed something catastrophic was about to happen in the country and fled to neighbouring Congo, where they lived for two years.
A year later, his parents were killed in the war. He was just three years old. After spending one month in an orphanage in Congo he was brought back to Rwanda, his native home. From this point onwards, he kept shuffling from one place to another, looking for food and shelter. In the course of the next six years, he lived in five different orphanages.
Rukundo, a solo visual artist, says moving around so much was hard for him, but the most difficult thing throughout his life was coming to terms with the loss of his parents. “I had to become a man before I could even become a boy”, he recalls with a sullen expression.
In 2001, aged nine, he was moved to L’Esperance Children’s Village Kigarama, where he was finally able to settle. This was after the orphanage he had been staying in closed down due to financial constraints.
He spent the next eleven years at the facility and attended the nearby primary school. From this early age Rukundo aspired to be an artist, and while away from school, indulged his hobby.
“I did not enjoy school, and soon I realised the normal education system was not going to allow me to reach my goal. I knew my happiness depended on being able to do what I loved, and it was up to me to make this happen,” he confesses.
For this reason he travelled to a nearby carpentry workshop for a two year course in carpentry. Once finished, he then travelled to Musanze for an additional year to learn how to make wooden hand crafts.
Today, it is not only his source of livelihood, but also a way of reliving a childhood that orphan hood robbed him of. It is a way of expressing his deeper-most feelings about his immediate surroundings and that of his country.
At the children’s village, where he plies his trade, Rukundo will be found sitting on a low stool or wooden form, tool box on one side and art pieces in different stages of completion. Below this setting are sacks of high quality timbers from which he moulds his gems. He traverses far and wide in the plains of Kigarama to purchase the timber from tree plantation owners. He confesses that he has a deep inclination toward nature conservation, a fact that easily manifests in his choice of themes. His best pieces are those of the famed mountain gorillas, which sell like hot cake among gorilla tracking tourists on short visits to the orphanage.
There are also beautiful carvings depicting typical Rwandan beauty and elegance, portraits, kitchen ware, and traditional Rwandan artifacts.
On average he makes ten pieces a day. He frequently has to leave his workstation and head to the gift shop to explain his carvings to tourists.
Rukundo is quite happy and proud of what he has achieved so far. For eight hours every day he can be found behind the orphanage’s Bisoke house, sitting peacefully and carving out his passion. He says he loves making people happy, and when he can achieve this, it makes him happy as well. All the ideas he carves are his own, and the abundance of gorillas in his arsenal is a clear testimony to his love for the primates.
Rukundo sells the bulk of his work at the orphanage, and gives back fifty per cent of the proceeds. He bemoans the fact that he can not reach out sufficiently to other potential buyers than the ones that visit the orphanage.
In the future Rukundo would like to invest the money he makes into starting his own art instruction school, so he can teach others the skills which he has learned.
Eventually he would like to start a family, and support them with his own carpentry business. His biggest wish is that someday he may be able to sell his carvings not only in Rwanda, but also around the world.