By the time the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (FPR Inkotanyi), Phoebe Kabaradine was 23 years-old.
Back then, her peers were getting and starting families as every Rwandan embarked on rebuilding their lives after the Genocide that claimed more than a million people.
However, Kabaradine did not have the luxury of starting her own, even though she was never short of suitor. Instead she opted to take care of 18 orphaned children, some of them her own siblings, whose parents had all perished in the Genocide.
“Most of my family members, including parents and older siblings had been killed in the Genocide. So, I realised that I was the oldest among the survivors in my family—a situation that automatically forced me to take care of the younger ones,” she says.
“Although I was of the right age; and while some young men asked to marry me, the situation I was in could not allow.”
Until 1996, she lived with her brother, also in his early 20s, who helped her take care of the children but he too was killed by unknown assailants. This compounded the already dire situation.
“Among the children was a one-year-old who needed milk but I could not afford it,” she says.
“The older ones wanted to go to school, yet some suffered from trauma and needed counseling.”
Trauma indeed became the biggest challenge that Kabaradine had to deal with.
“I find it difficult to talk about that subject because those were days of tears. The children were asking me about their parents and trauma ravaged them. I also was also traumatised, but their trauma scared me most,” says the 43-year-old woman.
As a result of trauma, even those children in schools often repeated classes. Until now, the youngest is still in P6.
She says that despite the odds, she did her best to raise the children under the circumstance.
Life started to ease a little when in 1998 some of the orphans were taken on by other survivors—reducing the number under her care to 12.
“I took them to school after I got to know about the Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) that provided scholastic materials among others to such children. Thanks to the Fund, I started feeling relief,” she says.
Hope for the future
Though Kabaradine says it was hard for her to give the children the best of life, including education, food and healthcare; she is optimist about their future.
Some of those she raised are now adults and have found their own means of survival.
“The fact that most of them have completed at least secondary school is the strongest hope we have. Two of them got married and are enjoying life in their new families. I am hopeful that those still with me will have a good future because we have tried to put the ugly past behind us,” she said.
One thing Kabaradine will however not forget is the fact that had the Genocide not happened, her life would not be what it is today.
“I would be living another life, maybe having own children and another family,” she said.
But she is not regretting, explaining that God has a good plan for her when she looks back at what happened with children she helped.
“I am grateful that I managed to raise all the children, some of them call me their mother. I am proud of being the mother of orphans and I know that they are also thankful for what I did for them. They are indeed my children,” she said.
Her only worry is that some of these orphans are yet to recover their property that was grabbed by unscrupulous persons, including the perpetrators of the Genocide.
“The properties of their late parents are still being held by perpetrators even after Gacaca Courts ruled that they should be returned to the children. Local leaders have been slow at helping us repossess the properties,” she says.
What an orphan says
Merci Irakoze, 23, one of those raised by Kabaradine described her as a humble and kind woman who dedicated to take care of them upon the murder of their parents.
“She has been a great mother. I grew up calling her my mother and never knew another parent; she bathed, clothed and fed me. I am thankful for what she did for us and pray that God will reward her and help her never to regret why she never got married. We shall always show we are her children,” says Irakoze who joined university this year.