The story behind the establishment of Niyo Cultural Centre and Art Gallery in Kacyiru is a winding journey of suffering and hope.
The centres were co-founded by two brothers, Pacifique Niyonsenga and Bertrand Ishimwe in 2013 and 2014 respectively, to help vulnerable street children and their mothers.
“The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started in early April and my parents had to flee to Goma. Niyonsenga was only two years, while I was still inside my mother’s womb. The family came back when the country was liberated in July and I was born in Kigali one month later,” Ishimwe tells The New Times.
But upon return, everything the family owned was gone. Their mother also lost all members of her family, except one sister who also escaped the horrid human massacre.
“Life became unbearable for us with no decent shelter since our parents, taking care of eight children, were jobless. Some of my older siblings like Niyonsenga became street children just to scavenge for something to eat.
Sometimes we were forced to sleep on hungry stomachs.
“As I grew older, I had two burning dreams in my life. The first one was that, I would one day wear a suit and the second one was to join Lycée de Kigali that hosted the children of the crème de la crème of Rwanda.
“I passed well in the Primary Leaving Exams, scooping the seventh position out of 256 students, who sat the exams from our school and was admitted at EFOTEC School in Kanombe. But I spent a year without joining the school since my parents could not afford the required fees.
Later on, Ishimwe met a Briton, Douglas Kirksmith, when he went to collect chicken feed from a restaurant. He asked why he was not in school and he told him his problem.
“Kirksmith met my parents and promised to help me with my education. I managed to finish my senior six at the school of my dreams. But after I lost contact with my benefactor, I started using my artistic talent at Kigali’s art galleries to generate money to complete my education.
“It was not an easy ride because I had to juggle education with work, sometimes spending many days at the art galleries during school days. On other occasions, I was forced to perform odd jobs at wealthy people’s homes to save money for my education.
“After finishing school, I sat down with my brother and we both discussed how we could use our artistic talents to repay the kindness that had been shown to us,” Ishimwe recalls.
Niyonsenga had also been rescued from the streets after six years by a Canadian called Bruno who befriended him and helped him with his education. He was good in Intore dance and painting and become a talented visual artist.
Niyo Cultural Centre was established to improve the lives of street children by getting education. The centre donates 50 per cent of proceeds from sold artwork to buy educational materials for the street children.
The kids are also taught traditional dance and drumming from which they’re able to get an income to help sustain their education and support their families. Those interested in arts are also taught artistic skills to harness their talents. The centres now support 67 families.