Once a proud mother of six, Theopiste Kayitesi had hoped that her children would grow up and help her lead a better life during old age.
However, her hopes disappeared during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when all her six children were killed along with her husband.
On the top of losing her entire family, Kayitesi, 57, a resident of Nyamata Sector in Bugesera District, was left homeless as the marauding militia destroyed their family home and looted everything of value.
After the Genocide, Kayitesi gathered herself up and remarried but as fate would have it her second husband perished in a motor accident.
She was left in destitution with two children from her second marriage.
“We had managed to build a house but it was incomplete and soon after, it collapsed leaving me completely with no shelter. I was left hopeless once again and I had these young children, I did not know what to do when it rained,” she said.
But Kayitesi’s prayers seems to have reached the gods of favour, ‘who’ promptly dispatched ‘angels’ in the shape of young Genocide survivors to her rescue. The youth pledged to construct for her a home.
“They got to know about my plight when they visited as part of their outreach activities. When they got here, they witnessed the deplorable conditions I was living in… they said I should look for a temporary shelter as they work on a sustainable solution,” she said.
She added that soon, the youth returned, this time to plan the construction of a new house for Kayitesi. The construction works start shortly afterwards.
The house was completed within weeks and the young survivors also equipped it with furniture.
“I now have a house fully equipped with modern furniture I am no longer a destitute, I am very grateful to the young survivors who I believe God sent to do for me what my deceased children would have done. They have even remained close and I consider them my children,” said Kayitesi.
Kayitesi is not the only person to receive support from the young survivors.
Anastase Ngaboyamahina, who in his mid-60s, is another Genocide survivor who benefitted from the youth when they constructed a house for him to replace the dilapidated one in which he lived.
“My house was about to collapse, these young survivors came and rebuilt it for me, they gave me furniture and later a cow that has significantly changed my life,” he said.
Young Genocide survivors are grouped in two organisations; the Association of Student Survivors of the Genocide (AERG) and one of former students who survived the Genocide against the Tutsi (GAERG).
Since 2015, members of AERG and GAERG have cleaned 65 memorial sites, built 17 new houses and renovated 12. 21 cows were given and 217 kitchen gardens were set up for homes that did not have them.
The youth also paved a total of 13 kilometres of feeder roads in the communities they visited.
According to Olivier Mpazimpaka, the president of GAERG, they are merely giving back to the community.
He says that much as young survivors also still need support, most of them are university graduates and have jobs while others are still studying.
“We are sending a clear message of hope, a message that parents, despite the deplorable conditions they live in after the Genocide, supported us until we became who we are now, the fact that we have managed to study while we had no hope to live is the only driving force to give back to the community,” says Mazimpaka.
He said other than supporting vulnerable survivors, this time around they have embarked on giving cows to people who defied all odds and to save those who were being hunted by extremists during the Genocide.
These are being given a cow each in a programme they called Inka y’Ineza (‘a cow for appreciation’).
Mazimpaka says besides getting contributions from members – which he says forms the core of funding for their activities – they also get support from various institutions and individuals.
Long way to go
Much as Genocide was put to an end and efforts have been made by different players to rebuild lives of survivors, Mazimpaka says challenges remain, especially with people who still harbour genocide ideology and denial.
“We are in the phase of fighting Genocide deniers and we should not keep quiet,” he added.
According to Dr Alvera Mukabaramba, the state minister for social affairs and social protection, the young Genocide survivors’ activities show that there is hope for a better future.
“These activities have a direct impact on national development, some of these people were toddlers during the Genocide but they have grown up and their good activities are a testimony to a better future for the country,” said Mukabaramba.