59-year-old Valerie Mukabayire was elected president of Avega Agahozo during the association’s 16th Congress held in Rwamagana on March 22. She was formerly the vice president during the Avega Agahozo 3rd Congress.
“I have been an active member although for some years now, I was not on the executive board.
I’m glad that the members have entrusted me with this role. With my team, our main work is to see to it that we advocate and work for the wellbeing of widows, especially the elderly ones who don’t have anyone to take care of them. These widows don’t have grand children to take care of them and their homes and welfare in general are in a really bad condition,” Mukabayire explains.
In 1995 about 50 widowed survivors came together to form Avega Agahozo, a national association of genocide widows. Since its formation, Avega has dedicated itself to supporting and empowering widows and orphans of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. It was established to provide advocacy for the empowerment and re-integration of genocide widows and their dependants into society.
“We have to dedicate most of our work to providing healthcare to survivors, as well as finding ways to improve their economic wellbeing through integrated and effective programmes,” Mukabayire says.
Born in the current Ruhango District in a family of seven, Mukabayire has only two brothers; the rest of her family was killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Mukabayire is currently a project manager with Progetto Rwanda, a non-profit organisation. She survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi with her two daughters and a son.
“When the killings started we were living in the current Nyakabanda village in Nyamirambo, Nyarugenge District. My husband and I asked our neighbour to hide our three children. We spent most of the time hiding in our house with my husband hoping that the killings would stop,” Mukabayire narrates.
On May 30, 1994, two Interahamwe militia stormed Mukabayire’s home to kill the whole family.
“Because we thought that it was mainly the man of the home they were looking for to kill, when I heard them calling out for him, I asked my husband to hide in a nearby bush. I walked out of the house and told them that he had fled. They said that they’d been told he was hiding at home.
One of the militia put a gun to my head and said he would count up to three, and if I did not tell them where he was hiding, they would kill me. After counting twice, my husband came running out from where he was hiding. They got him, took him right in front of our home and shot him.
They threw him in a ditch at the back of our house,” Mukabayire sadly recalls.
She adds that the two Interahamwe militia came back in the evening to kill her and the children.
“When they came back in the evening, they insisted that I reveal where the children were hiding.
I lied to them that the children were in Gitatarama with family members, so they were frustrated and angry and said they needed to kill me with the children. They later decided to go, saying that they would not kill me without the children. When they left, I immediately went to the neighbour who was hiding my children and she offered to give me refuge as well. Our neighbours protected us for a very long time. In fact most people in our village were killed by Interahamwe coming from other villages,” says Mukabayire.
Although Mukabayire was a teacher at Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux before the Genocide, after the Genocide, she taught for a few months and later got a job in Kigali City.
“With my three children, I took on more children who were orphaned. My home seemed like an orphanage. I struggled as it was not easy. But I was lucky I had a job and the Survivors Fund (FARG) was helpful. The children were able to go to school and now some of them are married and are leading a good life,” Mukabayire says.
Mukabayire’s eldest daughter Diane Mumararungu, describes her mother as courageous and selfless.
“Based on the various challenges she encountered as a young widow with very many children to take care of through such tough times, she is strong beyond understanding. Even when a situation seems impossible to bear, my mother will always comfort and encourage you. It’s amazing how she always looks at the brighter side of any situation and it’s a trait I have learnt from her,” Mumararungu reveals.
Francoise Kagoyire, the Director of Bank Supervision at BNR is also a member of Avega Agahozo. Kagoyire says that Mukabayire was the right person for the position.
“I first met Mukabayire when I was a teacher at Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux in 1989. It’s hard to describe Mukabayire in a short time given all she did for me and my children after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. We were all widows but it was amazing how she put aside all her worries to take care of me and my children and at the same time look after her family and other orphans,” Kagoyire narrates.
Kagoyire describes Mukabayire as a loving, patient, cultured mother with utmost integrity and principles.
“I learnt a lot from her. When we meet, we at times joke about how she had the strength to take care of us in such tough times while most of us were busy crying and feeling sorry for ourselves.
I remember the time I fell sick and she helped me take a bath. It’s not that we were close friends when we were at Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux, but she saw that I needed help and offered it to me unconditionally. I owe her a lot. Regarding her new position, I’m certain she will do a great job,” Kagoyire says.