Madina Mukaneza, 55-years is happy to be alive. Mukaneza is a Genocide survivor, a single mother of three, a peasant and, as fate would have it, HIV positive. Her whole life shrouded in misery.
A resident of Kanombe, a suburb of Kigali City, Mukaneza’s woes started many years back but the most challenging part came after she was gang raped by five men in 1994, an encounter that left her infected with the virus that causes Aids. When Mukaneza looks back, she sees only a wasted time. Her past was ruined and the future looks bleak.
“I don’t know whether my children will survive. It is just hell,” she says resignedly.
Like many other Rwandans, Mukaneza grew up in Burundi after her family fled the country because of the political upheavals during President Juvenel Habyarimana’s leadership.
But for the love of their country, Mukaneza’s family returned to the country where she got married and had four children with a man they lived happily till the tragedy befell the country in 1994.
Mukaneza’s tragedy is a repeat of horrific scenes. Her husband was brutally murdered by Interahamwe militias. Her father was killed in the same way and on the same day.
When violence erupted throughout the country in April 1994, Mukaneza, her husband and children dispersed to different places in search for safety.
“I found my daughter lying dead in a pool of blood. She had been raped and later murdered and left naked with other bodies. It was a horrific scene which I will never forget,” she recounts.
Amidst all that she had no idea where her husband and her other children were since many of her friends were reported dead.
“When I found my other children, we moved towards the Tanzanian border to trace for him but all was in vain. We kept at the border for two days because it was not easy for us to cross over. I did not manage to see the father of my children till one of his friends who was also tortured and had his left arm and leg cut off, informed us of the whole story,” narrates Mukaneza.
Mukaneza says it took her long to put behind the shadows of the Genocide, put her life in shape for her to start a small business to sustain the surviving family.
Though she had lost a husband and daughter to Genocide and faced the brutality of gang rape, Mukaneza was determined to live on.
She did not have to worry about her health and her only concern was her orphaned children who looked up to her for their survival and education leave alone other necessities.
Little did she know Mukaneza know she was living with the HIV virus? The day she got to know was another dreadful day in her life.
“The Genocide caused a lot of misery because it’s when I lost a husband and daughter but life came to a stand still when I found out that I was HIV positive,” she said.
Mukaneza painfully narrates that when nurses around here came one day and requested her to take HIV tests, she I took her children along to prove to them (nurses) that they were all HIV negative.
“I got shocked and heart broken when I got to know that I was HIV positive,” she says.
The news brought her a lot of misery and hopelessness in life especially when she thinks about her children’s life if she died.
Mukaneza says that sharing a personal story contributes to the fight against the stigma especially among the Aids patients.
“People tend to understand that you are actually doing something positive to the society by sharing your personal story,” she explains adding that education is equally important in the fight against the HIV scourge.
She advises that organizations charged with the fight against HIV/Aids, should instead teach people how to live positively first by providing them with life skills like knitting, basket weaving with more emphasis on counselling.
Encouragement, she says should be given to women living with HIV especially those willing to share their personal story.
Mukaneza believes that in doing so, more people become aware of the risks of contracting and spreading HIV.
“It is when people are not sensitized, that the virus spreads.” She educates.
“I lack many things. I have not been able to raise enough money yet the children need to food, clothing and medical care. The most challenging part is catering for their medication when they fall sick,” says Mukaneza.
Woes of a single mother
She says it is hell on earth bringing up children as a single mother and in that case a widow who is also living with HIV infection.
However, not all hope is lost; Mukaneza is privileged to have her three sons’ education sponsored by Augustine Niyibizi a renowned farmer in Kanombe.
With the money he saves from his farm of pigs, goats and crops, Niyibizi decided to add the three orphans on his education budget.
He says that he found it worthy to sponsor the children’s primary and secondary education when he got to know that Mukaneza is a Genocide widow and an HIV patient yet with no dependable income.
“My children are now big boys. I think they will know how to take care of themselves when I die. I am happy and grateful that they got a Good Samaritan to take care of their education, I only pray they turn out to be better citizens,” she says.
“It’s hard for me to consider working hard because I think I will breakdown and leave my children before attaining enough level of education. The mother faces a big challenge when her children get sick, “I get so unhappy and worried because they are my source of happiness and help especially when I get down with malaria,” she says.
“It is working most of the time and praying that God keeps me for sometime. I am happy to be alive no matter what the circumstances,” she says looking straight in the writer eyes.
Her hopes lie in Twajje counsellors who occasionally visit her home with whom she is happy to share her daily ordeals. The work of these counsellors has given her a reason to live on and have hope for tomorrow.