In December last year, 28-year-old Umulisa (not her real name) completed her university education at Institut Catholique de Kabgayi (ICK) despite the many obstacles and tribulations she faced. A resident of Muhanga District, Umulisa was born of rape, conceived during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and has faced adversity almost all her life—obstacles that got in the way of her education and made her repeat classes in primary school and then, eventually, drop out. ALSO READ: The plight of children born of rape during Genocide Her story At the age of 12, Umulisa was still in Primary Three, the age at which others usually complete primary school to start secondary. “At that age, I didn’t know what had happened to my mother as many women who were raped hid the truth from their children. My mother suffered, as family members always stigmatised me, calling me ‘a child of Interahamwe-militia’,” she says. ALSO READ: Overcoming trauma: The enduring story of children born of rape during Genocide The misery caused by stigma, she says, is what affected her studies. Umulisa found out about the barbarism her mother faced towards the end of Primary Three, after joining a trauma healing forum in 2007 that her mother took her to. The organisation, SEVOTA, assists widows, women whose children were killed, and orphans and children conceived of rape during the Genocide. “According to traditional beliefs, a child is attributed to their father. But I didn’t know him. This affected me, but it worsened when I discovered that I was born out of rape. The members of my mother’s family stigmatised me,” Umulisa says. ALSO READ: Resilience and humanity in the face of adversity: Mama Sevota’s story Umulisa, together with other children born of rape, embarked on a healing journey under the forums established by SEVOTA. The initiative organises a platform every year to give insight into the truth of what happened to women during the Genocide when the children are aged 12 years and older. “I discovered the truth during the second forum which annually gathers mothers and children born out of rape to discuss ways to overcome depression and heal,” she says. During the forum, they watch films that show how people who faced tragedy recovered from their wounds. ALSO READ: How could she have raised me with love? - Child born out of rape says of his surviving mother “When we were about to attend the second forum, I asked my mother about the children born out of rape. I had learnt about the other children and their mothers and asked if it was the same situation as us. That is how she told me the truth, also considering that I was learning how to cope with trauma,” Umulisa says. The truth was hard to hear, with all the stigma, no one was willing to pay school fees for her, and her mother was struggling financially. “I was told that they previously wanted my mother to have an abortion but she refused. All this shocked and affected me,” she recounts. “I joined other children in the forums with the same tragic history; we would chat, share experiences and learn how to cope in a crisis. Even today we are still in forums and clubs where we support and comfort each other to heal. Some even founded saving groups,” she says. To help her continue with secondary education, SEVOTA paid Umulisa’s third term tuition for senior three, all terms of senior four, and the first term of senior five, while her mother and another charity organisation, Bureau Social de Développement (BSD), helped cover the rest. Back on track “After joining the healing forums, my class performance drastically improved. I have hope for a bright future. Bad history doesn’t mean bad future,” Umulisa says. She completed secondary school in 2016 with good grades and achieved upper second class honours in accounting from the university. A graduate with 70-79.9 per cent is in the upper second-class division. ALSO READ: Editorial: Children born out of rape during the Genocide deserve fair treatment “Initially, I applied to study at the University of Rwanda and was selected. This shows that I performed well in secondary school. However, I was not given a loan to pursue studies at this university. “I changed and completed my university at Institut Catholique de Kabgayi. It’s been only three months after graduation and I am getting some temporary jobs and could create my own as I studied accounting,” she says. Watching Umulisa sail through adversity had the family members who rejected her admire her resilience. They had a change of heart and today, they all live together in harmony. The role of clubs Currently, Umulisa says, the children born out of rape during the Genocide are in different clubs across the country. “We are now in a club comprising 35 members born out of rape. We use WhatsApp groups to coordinate our activities,” she said. The founder of SEVOTA, Godeliève Mukasarasi, told The New Times that the children born out of rape are grouped in clubs with different names. ALSO READ: One woman’s efforts to restore livelihood, self-worth of Genocide survivors At least 300 children born out of rape managed to overcome depression and are gathered in 10 clubs of peace and development. “Some of these children started school late and we managed to support them. Some completed secondary school, TVET, and university. Those who dropped out of school are encouraged to go back although there are still financial constraints,” she said. Mukasarasi said that 204 children born out of rape and their mothers annually meet for measures to overcome trauma and strive for peace and development. “The forum also builds cohesion between mothers and their children despite the tragic history of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. They are also taken for study tours to learn more about genocide and also learn from the heroes who liberated the country,” she said. She said 90 per cent of youth born out of rape are taught techniques to manage trauma and depression, 60 per cent are have returned to school and 60 per cent have overcome depression. “80 per cent of the women are in good mental health after the forums and healing platforms. 60 per cent were given small capital to run small businesses and are now in saving groups,” she said. ALSO READ: Healing the wounds of Genocide through economic empowerment Mukasarasi said that there are still challenges including a limited budget to pay school fees for all the children and supporting others who are still joining SEVOTA with different needs.