Whenthe dark cloud of the Genocide hang over Rwanda in 1994, Liberathe Mukagihana lost everything, including some of her children and property.
The situation set the arena for a life of misery and poverty.
“My husband and two children were all killed during the Genocide, which left me devastated. With no shelter, the other two children who survived and I, were left at the mercy of wolves,” narrates Mukagihana, a resident of Nyagasambu Sector, Rwamagana District in Eastern Province.
With nowhere to call home and sadness that followed, I and my children started moving from place to place looking for shelter. As a result, I suffered a terrible trauma, she adds.
Ray of hope
She says the situation continued for two to three years after the Genocide until 1998, when Avega Agahozo, the Association of the Widows of Rwanda, came into their lives.
“That was the beginning of a promising life. They helped us to construct a small house to shelter our broken hearts. With a house at least my children had a place to hide their poverty and suffering,” Mukagihana adds.
She notes that life was still hard due to poverty, and her children slept on empty stomachs for days, adding that sometimes she would get so scared that they would die, which exacerbated the trauma.
She says that after sometime, she started going for training and counselling of survivors at Avega Agahozo, where they received transport fare of Rwf400 from organisers. “I would try my best to get a lift and save the money so that I can buy soap and other small essentials for my children.” Mukagihana says.
But luck was still on her side.
“One day, my counsellor recommended that I join an ongoing peace building training by World Vision. That was the beginning of a new life for me and my children,” Mukagihana narrates.
She says the training helped her into series of self discovery, healing and reconciliation.
“The training changed my life…I was helped to overcome the trauma and take care of myself. However what healed my heart was the lessons of forgiveness, especially those who killed my family,” she says. “I was determined to make a positive change and engage in productive venture to help me to recover from the jaws of poverty.”
She says since she was staying with relatives during the training, she was able to save Rwf35,000 at the end of the three-month training from the daily transport money organisers used to give participants.
She adds that she used some of the money to buy a small piece of land at Rwf15,000, which she sold at Rwf2 million years later.
This was enough capital to kick-start a farming business, and also help fulfill her long-time dream of becoming a self-reliant woman “who inspires her fellow survivors”.
She says her earlier experience with poverty encouraged her to work hard to secure her future and that of her children.
To ensure a sustainable source of income for the family, she acquired a Rwf300,000 loan from a local credit and savings co-operative and bought two Friesian cows. She says after a few months, one of the cows delivered and she started selling milk in the neighbourhood, a development that helped her save and cater for the family with ease.
She adds that she used some of the savings to buy another piece of land, noting that she invested in land because it brings in high returns after few years. “Don’t forget I also had a dream of becoming a model farmer. So, I needed a large piece of land to start commercial agriculture,” she says.
Mukagihana has graduated from owning nothing after the 1994 Genocide to owning acres of land, three Friesian and two cross-breed cattle.
She is also one of the inspirational people to many survivors. She has even donated cows to families of people who killed her husband and children.
She earns Rwf50,000 from milk sales a month, has about two hectares that she uses for farming activities, and one hectare at her home. She is a member of three women’s savings groups that aim at supporting women and encouraging entrepreneurship.
One of her children graduated from university last year, while the other one is in Senior Five.
She attributes her motivation to the peace building training, which she says opened her eyes to new realities and opportunities.
“Having a positive attitude towards everything around me, saving, having a goal, as well as commitment and hardwork have all helped me become the woman I am today. My burning ambition was to make my departed family members proud, and I knew the only way was to fight poverty and trauma and improve my standards of living,” she says.
Mukagihana encourages women to believe in themselves. “Whether one is educated or not, weak or poor and hopeless, there something inside you that you can achieve if you set out to. Women have the ability to develop themselves…All you need is to believe in your abilities, and work toward achieving your dream,” she says.
What others say
Josephine Munyeli: World Vision national healing, peace building and reconciliation specialist
Munyeli has trained and counsellored Mukagihana since 1997. She says Mukagihana is a living testimony of a person who started from nothing to owning several valuable assets.
She recovered from trauma and poverty, which looked impossible. Hers is an inspiring a testimony.