When Daniel Sibomana, then 14, lost his father and sibling during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, he turned to drugs for solace.
“Doing drugs like cannabis and Kanyanga (banned illicit brew) gave me better feelings about life,” he said.
Despite all the drug abuse, Sibomana remained a clever student in school and this earned him government sponsorship at the then National University of Rwanda to study a degree in mass communication.
It was not long before he fell in love with a girl during his second year; they got engaged after sometime and this union resulted in a son.
Meanwhile, his drug abuse habits continued—spending all his income he earned as a graphic designer on buying drugs. His concentration in class started to drop.
“The deeper I got into drug [abuse], the worse my concentration became, my class attendance deteriorated because most times I was on unproductive trips to cities like Bujumbura in Burundi, Goma in Congo and Kampala, Uganda.”
He adds that he was barely present to attend to their son who at times fell sick and the mother struggled with him single-handedly.
“She was loving and patient with me, despite criticism from her parents,” he says of his girlfriend. However, for some reason his drinking and drug abuse worsened, and become more detached from his girlfriend and their son.
One day, in one of those useless trips to Burundi during his last semester, his girlfriend called and said she wanted to see him urgently. So, he returned immediately.
When she insisted that they would meet at her parent’s home, Sibomana noticed that something was wrong. That is when she told him that their relationship was over.
Two months later, he got a wedding invitation to witness the mother of his son get married to another man. He also came to know that the couple would relocate to Belgium together with his son.
“I felt like the world was crushing me. I even attempted suicide. I quit school before writing my dissertation out of frustration and drowned more in drugs as a result.”
Sibomana shares that he got arrested and detained for over 30 times by authorities for being idle and disorderly. “Time came when police officers started taking me straight to Ndera Hospital, instead of putting me in detention as they had gotten familiar with my case.”
He notes that four of his colleagues have since died as a result of ailments related to drug abuse.
“At some point, I decided I wanted a change and to find purpose for my life. I told my mum to take me to a rehabilitation centre for help and she thought I was joking. On 13th May 2011, she took me to Ikizere Centre, Kicukiro District, an affiliate of Ndera Mental Hospital, for two months,” he continued to narrate.
Sibomana says that his doctor briefed him that he would do his best to help him. However, he also warned that he had to be strong-willed if the battle against addiction was to be won.
“He exposed me to a lot of counseling, and other mental therapies, it was tough but with time, I was becoming less interested in drugs, drinking and smoking.”
Sibomana adds that life outside rehabilitation was harsh: “It was as if I had woken up from along dream—my peers had made progress with their lives, they had stable marriages and jobs. I was embarrassed, I felt like I was starting from zero”.
Seven years after quitting university he went back and finished his dissertation and got many job offers.
Sibomana now 33, and a resident of Kimironko Sector, Gasabo District, now works as a graphic designer and cartoonist with Kigali Today, a local media outlet.
He has since apologised to his mother and ex-wife for the tough time he put them through.
He is now an anti drug abuse ambassador. For the last three years he has been testifying at national events to mark the international day against drug abuse.
He has been hosted several times on various local radio stations, and the national television, to share his testimony. “I do not hope to re-marry soon, I want to concentrate on my career first,” he notes.
Sibomana hopes to do a course in addiction studies, so he can easily counsel people with drug problems.