He is a common figure in Rwanda, and it is fair to say that he is the face of MTN Rwanda in many ways, featuring in promotional activities and conducting interviews. The jolly father-of-four is known for cracking jokes even in the middle of shows, but behind all that, Alain Numa has an extraordinary story of resilience. ALSO READ: Rwandans urged to uphold spirit of resilience Born in 1973 in Lubumbashi, in what used to be Zaire — currently the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) —, to a Belgian father and Rwandan mother, Numa relocated to Burundi at the age of four when his parents separated. It is a point in his life he describes as a significant turning point. Just when his mother and father’s story ended, his was just beginning. In Burundi, Numa lived with his grandparents, who had fled Rwanda to Burundi. “It is in Burundi that I started life and it's where I attended school, right from primary to secondary,” recalls Numa, but as fate would have it, his mother would pass on early, in 1986, when he was just 13 and in primary five. An identity crisis In Burundi, Numa was known as the ‘muzungu child’ due to his mixed-race background. Within the community of Burundians and Rwandans who were refugees, his skin complexion was always a centre of attraction. That, however, did not bother him much as a child as he never paid attention to his skin colour, choosing to live as a young and dynamic boy in a foreign country. “I had a lot of friends that I used to play football with. I didn't have siblings. I only had a half-sister from another father,” he says. Often, though, he would encounter strange moments in life where children would sing “muzungu nyange, kabila canga canga” whenever he passed by in the community. “Muzungu nyange means a white person who is not white but also not black. Just in the middle, 50/50. Sometimes it would hurt me,” Numa says, adding that he once approached his mother and asked for more explanations on what made him different from the other children. “I was still too young to get the reality of things,” Numa says, adding that as he grew up, it hit him even more, especially as he went into upper classes. “The challenge I faced or what hurt me seriously was the time I was in school as a refugee. In class, sometimes the teachers would ask students to stand up or raise their hands depending on their nationality,” he says. ALSO READ: Resilience and humanity in the face of adversity: Mama Sevota’s story Burundians, Rwandans, and Congolese would all identify themselves and Numa would remain seated, not knowing where he belonged among those nationalities. “Sometimes I would ask myself, by the way, who am I?” Before passing on, his mother had told him everything about his father — who he was, the reason they separated, why they moved to Burundi to live with his grand father, and why his grand father lived in Burundi as a refugee, instead of his country of birth, Rwanda. It is at this point that Numa started to have a sense of identity, taking on his grandfather’s name ‘Rwemalika’ as his own because at the time people needed to get legal documents to be able to move around. Even then, people would look at his identity card (ID), and see the Rwandan name and they would ask several questions based on his skin colour. It was a big challenge, and he took it upon himself to address it by creating his own ‘dad’. It is a story he doesn’t want to delve much into but he decided to claim to be a son of one of the prominent military Colonels in Burundi. Carrying his surname in a way helped him move around because everybody knew that soldier and they respected him. Nobody figured out he was impersonating. “The Colonel used to travel abroad a lot, so they would assume maybe he had sired a child with a white woman on one of his visits abroad,” he says. Much as it helped him move around freely and get services, impersonating the Colonel in hindsight highlights the identity crisis Numa had to deal with right from childhood. Luckily, the soldier did not find out. It helped him buy time until he joined the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF- Inkotanyi). Joining the struggle Upon finishing high school, at the tender age of 18, Numa decided to join the liberation struggle, instead of joining university. He had seen people leave Burundi to join the struggle which started in 1990. Since his childhood, his grandparents had instilled in him patriotic principles. The discrimination he faced and everything else made him want to join the struggle and help liberate Rwanda — maybe he could have a country his grandparents were denied. It is an experience he says was not only a matter of life and death but also a calling he had to answer. As challenging as it was, he wanted a place he could call home and a country he could call his own. He knew what was at stake because “war is war. It's not a fun thing or a party. Yet he was ready to join others and fight together. “There are no jokes whatsoever but we thank God that we managed to get out healthy and we are still standing today,” he says. ALSO READ: New Rwandan documentary highlights values of resilience, unity in face of adversity After the country was liberated in July 1994, Numa continued to serve in the army for another three years until he was discharged at the end of 1997. That is at the time the government was reforming the army, demobilising some of the individuals that fought in the liberation struggle and wanted to go into other fields or continue with their education and professions elsewhere. Upon leaving the army, he got a job with an NGO and later with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as a security manager. It was at the time the country was battling infiltrators, commonly known as ‘Abacengezi’, who were causing havoc mostly in the northwestern part of the country. His job was to escort convoys delivering humanitarian support and all. He worked with two more NGOs, including AfriCARE, until 2000 when he joined MTN Rwanda. Serving in Church Ministry Originally a Roman Catholic, Numa served in church as an altar boy but it was in 2010 when he had an encounter with Jesus Christ and became a Born-Again Christian, he says. At the time, he had returned from the World Cup in South Africa and he decided to escort his wife, who was already a converted Born-Again Christian, to church. All he wanted to do was be a good husband, but by the end of 2011, he had started to attend services regularly. The more he attended church, the more he realised he had a calling to be a pastor and he took up theology courses both in Rwanda and Kenya online. He was ordained a pastor in 2019, though he does not have a church of his own. And recently he was in the news for presiding over the vows between Dieudonne Ishimwe, known as Prince Kid, and Miss Rwanda 2017, Elsa Iradukunda. Numa does not believe that a calling to be a pastor means having your church. One can serve in many other ways, he says. He currently attends Shiroh Prayer Mountain in downtown Kigali, where he is among the pastors there. Empowering boys to become men Numa believes one of his callings is to help nurture a generation of young men, who are up to the task, to take responsibility and promote Rwandan and Godly values. His initiative, “Boys to Men”, which is aimed at promoting positive masculinity built on traditional values, seeks to make young boys more proactive, lead healthy lives, and take up responsibilities and domestic chores — to create a more equitable and fair world. The programme involves training youngsters, between ages 12-16, on the right values and practices, ministering the gospel, and doing things without looking at them in the gender mirror. It is a calling that Numa noticed, because today, boys are growing up without any sort of nurturing and training to become responsible men and citizens who contribute to the well-being of society. Recently, he orgaised a holiday boot camp where a group of boys were trained in how to eventually become responsible men. Conducted in Bugesera District in Eastern Province, the boot camp featured tasks and assignments that were aimed to make the teenage boys more resilient and productive. It is something Numa organised without sponsors. However, the feedback he received from parents upon the graduation of their sons has motivated him to consider organising a boot camp every year. To him, it is satisfying in the sense that he has to give direction to young men, to lead healthy and responsible lives. To him, that is his calling. The 50-year-old’s mantra in life is to do what you want to do when you want to do it. “Don’t wait or postpone it. Do it now because time will not wait for you. The more you delay, the more confused you get in your goals and the more time you lose.” “Think big, start small, and grow big” is what drives him amidst everything he has gone through.