In a family of five, Safi Mukundwa was the only one who survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed over one million innocent lives in 100 days.
Born in former Kibuye, Karongi District, Mukundwa was only eight years old when the Genocide started in her area.
Together with her parents and two other siblings, like many other Tutsis, they were tricked into going to the Gatwaro Stadium in Karongi town for safety—but their hope for survival didn’t last long.
After a few days of arriving there, the now mother-of-three says Interahamwe attacked the place.
Since the stadium was located in the hills, she says she saw the killers throw grenades and tear gas.
Thousands of lives were claimed at this site, and many people who had managed to survive the Genocide during the first days were later tricked into going to the stadium for safety and security, and brutally killed, including her father and other sibling.
Mukundwa, her older brother and mother, tried to escape, unfortunately, along the way, they were captured and assembled at another place with other Tutsis.
“When the number grew bigger, we were asked to ‘help them make their work easier’. Since many people had been killed during that time, the killers assembled the bodies in one place, and asked some of the men in our group to dig a mass grave where they would dump the bodies.
“Later, they were asked to carry the bodies and dump them in the dug hole,” she recalls.
Mukundwa reflects on this dark period; remembering how, with other children, they too were made to carry the bodies of fellow children murdered, and ordered to dump them in the grave like garbage.
She says some bodies had decomposed and it was hard to lift them; as they lifted them, some body parts fell off.
Beneficiaries learn how to make sweaters.
After the traumatic experience, some of the men among them were murdered, during which Mukundwa, her mother and older brother tried to escape—again.
They run to seek refuge at a family friend’s home who was Hutu. They could hear Interahamwe singing as they went after them, dragging their machetes on the ground.
They run to a nearby garage to hide, and a custodian working there saw them and demanded for money. When her mother told him she didn’t have any, he yelled and alerted the killers.
The last thing she saw before her mother shrieked in agony, telling her children to run away as fast as they could, was Interahamwe butchering her with their machetes.
Mukundwa’s brother shouted at her to run faster, but the killers managed to get hold of him, and they butchered him too.
At that point, it had started getting dark, and Mukundwa hid behind a big tree. This didn’t stop them from looking for her. They grabbed flashlights and searched. When they found her, they started hitting and cutting her, one of them tried to swing his machete, aiming for her throat, but she used her hand to protect herself, leaving it almost severed. She bled profusely and lay there unconscious—they thought she was dead.
The beneficiaries are not only supported academically but also guided and taken through different aspects of life.
When she regained consciousness, it was daylight. She walked, with barely any life left in her, severely wounded and of course, hungry.
She says she walked to an aunt’s home, also Hutu, who managed to take her to Kibuye Hospital after a few days when her wounds had started rotting.
At the hospital, soldiers came and took her together with other children who were at the hospital to Kituku Orphanage in Goma, Congo.
Miraculously, she survived, but with injuries that left hideous scars on her body. Mukundwa has since gone through six operations meant to fix the injuries she suffered.
Mukundwa told herself that if she managed to survive; she would make sure she helped others who had suffered too.
“I told God that if I got out of that alive, I would dedicate my life to helping others,” she says.
Although many people make promises to God when hard times arise and forget to fulfil them, Mukundwa was going to keep that promise.
After the Genocide, she was taken in by a maternal uncle who saw her through primary and secondary school.
It wasn’t easy for her because of the haunting memories of what happened. This affected her and at some point, she thought life had no meaning, but with the support of her family members, she managed to pull herself up again.
Through the support of Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG), Mukundwa managed to complete her university studies at Adventist University of Central Africa.
After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting, she advanced her studies at Mount Kenya University, doing a Masters in the same course.
Since helping others was her aspiration, in 2012 after completing high school, Mukundwa started working with a child orphaned during the Genocide, providing basic needs and other scholastic materials.
With the help of Devon Ogden, an American who came in as Mukundwa’s sponsor after listening to her story which she shared at Kigali Memorial Centre in 2006, she started taking in more orphans.
The number grew to 47; 14 of them are already done with university studies.
The girls are not only supported academically but also guided and taken through different aspects of life, and how to deal with challenges and overcome them.
REACHING OUT TO VULNERABLE PEOPLE
Mukundwa with the support of her sponsor, is now running her own organisation known as Safi Life Organisation Centre in Ndera, Kigali.
Here, she says they have a project that helps teen mothers, especially those who are single, pregnant or with young children.
The teen mothers are taken through different training sessions, including knitting, tailoring and other income-producing skills, which according to her is to empower them to provide for their children.
A training session. The project, ‘Ndashoboye’ also provides mentoring on how to run a business, financing and saving, among other things.
The project is known as ‘Ndashoboye’, loosely translated as “I am capable,” and it also provides mentoring on how to run a business, financing and saving.
“The skills of how to handle money and savings is essential to young people, it helps them know how to use money and at the same time save the little they have for future use,” she says.
According to Mukundwa, some of the young people she caters for were born after the Genocide.
“Some of them are traumatised because their parents who are survivors or perpetrators don’t know how to tell or explain to them what happened 25 years ago,” she says.
“This is a big challenge and it is affecting the new generation, so because of this, we support them psychologically, emotionally as well as economically,” she says.
She explains that the women in the organisation are encouraged to work together as one, maintain peace and above all, help each other.
“Peace education is paramount, especially for young people, and that’s why we ensure that they are educated on how to fight Genocide ideology,” she says.
At Safi, the beneficiaries are also taken through lessons on how to prevent early pregnancy as this will adjust their focus to their dreams and ambitions first.
As someone who has gone through a lot, Mukundwa says when she shares her own story with these young people; it gives them a clear picture of what happened and what needs to be done going forward.
“We encourage them to continue loving their children. The skills are there to boost their lives financially. They get an education on the history of the country and what is needed in order to continue living in peace,” she says.
Seeing other people, especially girls and vulnerable women, prosper is Mukundwa’s happiness and she believes when post-genocide students are included as well, it helps in the healing of the country in general.