Growing up in five foster families after his entire nuclear family was decimated during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, never, in his wildest dreams did Jean d’Amour Mutoni envisage himself the man he has become today.
If you met him in the streets of Manchester, clad his favourite blue tracksuits and marching trainers, you could be swayed by his athletic build to think that he could be one of the affluent football stars in this football crazy city.
Far from it! His has been a journey of pain, perseverance and passion. It is this thorny journey that challenged Mutoni to face not only his own dire situation head-on but also the plight of others of his ilk.
The journey to surmount challenges has seen the 29-year genocide survivor from Ruhango district enter 10 Downing Street, and get ushered into royalty with an epic meeting with the Queen of England.
“It was a grand entry into royalty,” says Mutoni, “It was a shot in the arm, an extra impetus to work even much harder.”
In June this year, Mutoni was among 60 young role models selected from 35 Commonwealth Countries, who received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, at a ceremony presided over by Queen Elizabeth II. The award recognised young people who through their ideas, energy and talent have made a difference in their communities.
“It was just like a good dream,” says Mutoni in a pensive mood, perhaps trying to relive the moment.
“I could never have dreamt of shaking hands with the Queen, meeting the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the iconic English footballer; David Beckham.
“It was a great opportunity to network with other young people and organisations, this network will go a long way in making our organisation grow and reach out to many people in need”.
Mutoni’s journey to Buckingham Palace did not ‘just happen’. You could argue that it is fate which decides our routes, but it goes without saying that good deeds make fate favour us.
This holds true for Mutoni, through his organisation; Acts of Gratitude, he has reached out to those in need, he has impacted the lives of many so that they in turn lend a hand to others in need.
What inspired Mutoni to make a foray into this rather ‘unprofitable’ venture, begs the question. Perhaps here lies the answer; his past. With his core family killed, all odds were against Mutoni who was only aged 8 when the genocide happened in 1994. But hope was restored when a foster family came calling and took him in as their own. This love gesture came to have a lasting impact on Mutoni’s life and purpose for living.
At University, Mutoni was charged with the welfare of fellow genocide survivors who had no place to go to during holidays, they always remained at school. Survival during the holidays meant seeking for handouts. The usual practice was to solicit for financial support from well wishers and the general public.
“But it got tough at some point, there was little support coming our way but the needs were mounting, we were turned down on several occasions,” Mutoni recalls.
“One day I got a sobering message from one of our former colleague, who was already in employment, in a text message he said, ‘Thank for the information, I can’t help much, but if there is a place or someone you think can help, I will be happy to help you approach them.’
“After getting this message, I vowed never to be like him upon graduation, I was determined to give back to the community as a sign of gratitude to all those who have helped me along,” Mutoni says.
After consultation with a few colleagues, Acts of Gratitude was born. The organisation which currently has 250 members seeks to build a community of socially responsible leaders and inspire others to give back. Through funds mobilised from members and the community, the organisation pays school fees for needy students, contributes to health insurance for the vulnerable poor and serves a wide range of disadvantaged people.
The organisation has established a development model meant to reach out to communities in a more sustainable way. Through its programs; Expose, Educate and Empower, Acts of Gratitude seeks to bring about change in communities through community service, promote skills development by setting up a social entrepreneurship academy and incubation for start-ups. The organisation targets producing 1000 social entrepreneurs in the next five years.
Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Health Sciences (on scholarship) Mutoni can’t wait to return home and apply the knowledge and skills gained.
“I consider any form of support that I have received on my way up, a debt. I feel that I owe my Country a lot; this is a debt that I have to pay back. This is what keeps me going, this is what me and my colleagues at Acts of Gratitude are doing; inspire a generation that is conscious of its social responsibility.”