The SAYING that when a visitor arrives at a home during lunch hours, they must be blood relations couldn’t have been more apt for Ngendahimana’s grand homecoming last week. Time check was 1pm, on Tuesday, just the perfect time for lunch in a conventional African society milieu.
Ngendahimana arrives at his family home in Rugarama Village, Maranyundo Cell, Nyamata Sector, Bugesera District, to a sea of emotional parents, quizzical siblings and relatives and curious neighbours.
Ngendahimana has been ‘lost’ for the last 22 years, but this lunchtime return confirms that, indeed, the toddler who went missing at the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was back. Back alive.
At the home, teeming with people, family membersa and neighbours gather to welcome the 26-year-old bearded man who arrives clad in a pink T-shirt, atop blue denim and black designer canvas shoes, which he completes with a blue baseball cap and a necklace.
Ngendahimana is overwhelmed with emotions and tears of joy wet his cheeks as he steps out of a Red Cross Land Cruiser and sees his father coming to hug him.
Ngendahimana, who has no other name,, is the fourth born among nine children of John Biziyaremye, 62, and Mukamwiza, residents of Bugesera District.
He lost touch with his family during 1994 Genocide against Tutsi at age of four.
When Ngendahimana is composed enough to narrate his journey over the last 22 years, he takes a seat that sees him sandwiched by relatives and neighbours.
But words can’t just form. Ndendahimana literally struggles to find his words, words he needs to put together a story he says is a ‘full book’ and a ‘long history.’
“I have several names because of the conditions I passed through. The real name that my parents named me is Ngendahimana, but I grew up identifying myself as Ntabanganyimana. I also nicknamed myself Abu-Bakr,” he says.
During the 1994 Genocide, Ngendahimana fled with other refugees who were strangers to him. He followed them wherever they went in DR Congo until they left him by the roadside. Alone.
“I struggled so much. I met a Congolese family that adopted me in my childhood,” says Ngendahimana.
Ngendahimana’s break-through came when Red Cross visited refugees in DR Congo seeking to have those willing to return home repatriated. He was among the refugee children who benefited.
“Red Cross brought us to Kibuye Camp where refugee children would be looked after from,” he says.
After sometime in the camp, Red Cross started the process to reintegrate child refugees into families in Kibuye through adoption. But all wouldn’t be well for Ngendahimana.
“My foster family promised to take me to school but they couldn’t. They made me their labourer instead,” he says.
“I ran to the street and things became worse. I later quit street life and searched for a job, getting one as a herdsman with a wage of Rwf1,500 per month. I tried my hands on many things but my life seemed intertwined with a rather bad fate.”
Throughout this time, Ngendahimana kept in touch with Red Cross in Kibuye asking them to search for his family.
“I provided little information which helped them find my family. I could not believe news that my family is alive after 22 years without seeing them.
“My father would later come to the camp where he confidently announced that I was his son after seeing me,” says Ngendahimana, who was in so much disbelief he found himself refusing to accept the change of fate.
“I didn’t expect to see any of my relatives anymore because I thought they all had died. I only listened to my heart.”
John Biziyaremye, the father of Ngendahimana, explained that they got information about his son from announcement on radio.
“I heard a radio announcement where my name and that of my wife were read. I thought he was somebody else with the same name. I had never thought about the existence of my child. I heard the announcement three times and I followed up,” Biziyaremye said.
“I went to Red Cross in Kigali, where they cross-checked all identifications. I explained how the child disappeared,” added the tearful father.
“This is God’s miracle. I can’t explain the situation.”
Vincent Habimana, a neighbour, said they are happy to welcome the son, saying it brought hopes of reuniting with other children who also disappeared.
“Biziyaremye was my neighbour before 1994. We were saddened by the disapperance of his son and, over the years, had totally lost hope of ever seeing him again. We thought that he had died,” he said.
Sonia Laurence Musagwa, another neighbour, described the reintegration of the Ngendahimana as a “resurrection,” adding that they will support him.
“Ngendahimana has gone through a lot of challenges. He needs parents and neighbours’ support. We will look after him as a community,” Musagwa said.
Ngendahimana is now employed at Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) as a cleaner, while at night he works as a watchman to earn a living.
Leo Rwemera, a Red Cross staffer in-charge of family restoration links, explained the process through which the child was identified and linked to his family.
Red Cross registers children who lost families. There are some children who are able to provide all required information about their families, while others are too young to offer any helpful information.
“We based on information the child had provided and we passed it via radio announcements. We also had information provided by parents. We verified and found they were linked,” Rwemera said.
“We invited the parent to the orphanage. He noticed his son without much difficulty. I encourage families whose members disappeared to come to Red Cross for assistance.”