It’s been 23 years since over one million people lost their lives in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The effects of the tragedy still ripple through the daily lives of those who survived.
However, alot has been done to ensure that survivors heal and live their dreams. The support has come from government, institutions and individuals.
One such person is the late Anonciata Utamuliza, famously known as Kamaliza, an icon in Rwanda’s folk music field.
Before her death in 1996, Kamaliza cared for children who were orphaned during the 1994 Genocide, an initiative that was thereafter taken over by her elder sister, Maria Uwanjye.
Kamaliza started the initiative just a few months to her death. After her passing, Uwanjye chose to carry on with the initiative as the fulfilment of a promise she had made to her late sister.
It was the need to see these children get a home to call their own and the need to have someone to call ‘mother’ that pushed the ladies to build the initiative.
Though it wasn’t easy at first, Uwanjye managed to carry on, mostly becauseof the sorrow she felt for the children and, the need to preserve her sister’s legacy.
“It was a little bit hard for me at first,like finding means of caring for all the children, but God was with me. I got support from family and friends, Caritas Rwanda, among others,” she says.
Uwanjye recollects the memories of her sister as a person who she says had an exceptionally loving heart.
“She had this deep love for all people but her heart was mostly with children. She came up with this idea because it was the only way she could become a mother to them and be there for them at all times.She wanted to be their shoulder to lean on,” Uwanjye recalls.
Love has hands
By the time Kamaliza passed on, the initiative had three children under its wing.The number, however,increased to over 20 children.
The children they cared for were mostly kids under the age of three. In the midst of all that they faced at such tender ages, they got shelter and guardians to look after them; a mark was made in their lives.
Uwanjye says that taking care of these children was a calling.This is one of the reasons she chose to stay celibate and serve the Lord and take care of the needy.
Aside from getting shelter, the children had access to education, some are now graduates and others are in high school.
She is comforted by the fact that these children finally got someone to look out for them.
“I was in my early 20’s when I requested God to give me the ability to take care of the needy. I did this from the bottom of my heart and God answered my prayers. He blessed me with this family. Children call me ‘mother’ and I am proud, they love me and I love them too, we are one big happy family,” she adds.
Most of these children are now grownups, some graduated and started working, and others got married and started families of their own.
Uwanjye calls it a blessing to have been their guardian and that though they faced struggles, they managed to overcome. “Life has not been easy but because of God’s mercy we have managed to survive, my children have never gone hungry, we have shelter, and they are educated. Indeed God has been with us,” she says.
At 65, Uwanjye believes that the energy to fend for her children is decreasing; however, she hopes for the best and prays that God ‘calls’ her when at least all her children are done with school.
Love has feet too
Solange Ingabire, one of the beneficiaries of this initiative, met Kamaliza when she was only three years old. She had no one to turn to and in the midst of all the chaos and pain at the time, Kamaliza took her in.
“I remember I was the oldest of the three children the late Kamaliza was taking care of at the time. Though our time with her was cut short by tragedy, we count ourselves lucky to have met her. She was a good mother to us and did her best to give us a chance at life,” Ingabire recalls.
The 25-year-old says that though life wasn’t easy, they have managed to live on.
Her dream is to finally complete her studies at university, seeing that she dropped out after her first year due to financial constraints; nevertheless, she is thankful for where she is today.
“Our second mother, Uwanjye, I don’t think I can find words to express the pride I have in her. She is an extraordinary woman who taught us a lot; she taught us how to pray and many other things. She has always been there for us, sacrificed a lot for us and we are truly thankful. May God continue blessing her,” Ingabire says.
Pelagie Ingabire, another beneficiary, came to Kamaliza’s foundation when she was only seven years old.
Both of her parents had been killed during the Genocide and she didn’t know the whereabouts of any of her siblings.
Uwanjye took her in and now, the 24-year-old sees her as her own mother.
She was no longer an orphan, she had a mother to bathe her, feed and clothe her. Life had changed and it had changed for the better.
“When you’re young you don’t have the right perspective to realise somethings, but when you grow up, that’s when you realise that God was with you and He certainly does wonders through kind people like our mother, Uwanjye,” she says.
“I am who I am today because of this woman and I am so thankful. I managed to complete high school and I am now waiting to join university. I lost my real parents but I have a family that loves me, this is a blessing.”
Ingabire falls short of words when she tries to express gratitude towards her mother.
“I don’t know how I can express this, but Uwanjye has been a mother to me in all ways, she treated us all equally, just like her own children, and provided us with each and everything we needed within her means.
Right now, I don’t have a job but I have faith that I will complete my studies and most importantly, find a job and take care of her because now it’s our turn to express the kindness she showed us,” she says.
Maria Yohana, a traditional musician and a close friend to the late Kamaliza, applauds the initiative; she calls it a healing step that has greatly contributed to the remedial therapy for the survivors.
She recalls her friend as the kind of person who had great love for children. “Kamaliza loved children a lot, this initiative was more of a symbol of her love. It’s an act of selflessness and because of this, these children have managed to have a family they call their own and a person to support them through their endeavours,” Yohana says.