Twenty-three-year-old Ange Sibo Uwizirerera from Ruhondo village, Nyabugogo Cell in Nyarugenge District, was adopted when she was only three days old. Today, her community celebrates her, because inspired by her own story, Uwizirerera has founded an initiative that takes children off the streets in Huye District.
Uwizirerera story begins on April 15, 1994, when she was born in Kilinda Hospital located in Murambi Sector in Karongi District, Western Province, by a Tutsi mother Virginie Mukantabana, who was killed shortly after the birth of her last born.
Jean-Baptiste Bicamumpaka and his wife Adele Mujawiyera, who lived nearby the hospital at the time, received a message that their friend Mukantabana had been last seen on April 13.
This was at the height of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, and the couple was worried that Mukantabana could get killed at any time.
The three were all teachers and their families had enjoyed a good relationship for a long time despite the facts that they belonged to different ethnic groups, Bicamumpaka says.
“On April 15, we went to visit her in hospital and she had delivered a baby girl. She told us that she didn’t have any news from her family who lived in Nyabinombe, which was another sector of former Bwakira district (now Karongi)” he says.
“It was in bad time; roadblocks were in every corner of the streets and it was almost impossible for a Tutsi to pass,” he adds.
After a few days, the Bicamumpakas heard rumors that Mukantabana had been taken away by unknown people from the nurse who was hiding her, and she sent the baby to their home.
“Initially, I feared being killed if I took the child, but was determined to raise her no matter what,” he says. “Of course it was not easy as the information started to circulate that I was raising a Tutsi child, a ‘small snake’, as they called Tutsi at the time,” adds Bicamumpaka.
Many people including his neighbours tried to take the baby from them and kill her, but they would leave saying she couldn’t live without her mother.
“They used to ask me in which country the baby would grow, as the idea was to kill all Tutsi. This is why I called her ‘Uwizirerera Sibo Ange’, because only God knew how she would survive,” he says.
Uwizirerera literally means someone who will be raised by God, while Sibo is means ‘It’s not them or they don’t know what they are doing’.
Bicamumpaka says he was restrained from taking part in the killings because he was a ‘good Christian’.
Mujawiyera says in the beginning it was not easy to raise a small baby, especially during such an insecure period. At the time, their last born was four years old, but she kept trying to breastfeed her until breast milk came in.
“Before I started breastfeeding her, we got help in form of powdered milk (NIDO) from the nurse who helped her mom to deliver, then some good neighbours secretly helped us with cow milk,” she said.
The Genocide claimed Uwizirerera parents, two siblings and her extended family members, while her other three siblings survived, she says.
“Her siblings who survived came here shortly after the Genocide and asked us to continue to raise her and we accepted as we already loved her so much as our own blood,” says Mujawiyera.
Told about her roots
Uwizirerera says she was told the truth about her roots when she completed primary education. She was told that her parents, siblings and family were killed during 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
People around would tell her that she was not a member of the Bicamumpaka family, but refused to believe them as she knew she resembled her mom (Mujawiyera).
“I knew I had my mom’s face, my siblings and other family members told me. When some people insinuated that I was not part of the family, I took it as hatred,” she says.
Uwizirerera admits that at first it was a big burden for her to accept the truth.
“Something changed in me. All my life I had known I had parents, and suddenly I became an orphan; it was hard to accept the truth,” she says.
Uwizirerera felt rejected and thought her teachers and other children with whom she had been raised were going to hate her.
Later, when she saw nothing had changed about the good relation and care she used to receive in the family, so things became ‘normal’.
“They are my parents, their children are my siblings. I’ve lacked nothing in their means, I received love and care from them; until now, I’m living with them,” she says. “I wish they could be recognised at the national level. They are an example that helping people doesn’t require a lot of wealth, it’s just a matter of love.”
Mujawiyera says they had to tell Uwizirerera the truth as she was joining secondary school and the Fund for Neediest Survivors of Genocide in Rwanda was going to pay school fees for her.
“It was very hard for all of us, especially for Uwizirerera. She used to think I was her biological mother, so the situation was going to change,” she says.
Emmanuel Ntwali Bicamumpaka, 27, the second-born of the family, says they always knew Uwizirerera as their sibling.
“She is such an amazing girl, she is our sister even if we don’t share the same blood. We lived together since she was born and shared the same breast,” says Ntwali.
Bicamumpaka raised 25 other children
Besides Uwizirerera, Bicamumpaka’s family raised 25other children from different backgrounds. Some are genocide survivors and others are ordinary orphans.
Mujawiyera, a primary school teacher, says it doesn’t require being a millionaire to help needy children, but rather a good heart.
“We didn’t own much but God helped us to find the basic needs for all children. When it came to paying school fees for some, we paid in installments. We could even pass the whole academic year paying slowly until we covered everything,” she says.
Inspired by her own story
Uwizirerera has been inspired by her own story and she is now helping other vulnerable children. When she was in third year at University of Rwanda, she started a foundation to help children on streets to return to their families and school.
“I owe much to children in need as it was my case 23 years ago when I had no one to care about me,” she says. “When I started I was alone, but now we are 12 people committed to helping children on streets,” she adds.
Uwizirerera, who recently graduated, says they already have Huye District’s approbation and are searching for legal documents from Rwanda Governance Board in order to operate in other districts.
“We gather street children, we convince them to go into Huye Transit Centre so that they return to school after being given primary care after a period of 3 to 6 months,” she explains.
Huye District helps them with transport and the rest comes from contributions by the members. Uwizirerera says they plan to reach out to more families and partner with them to search for sustainable solutions so that children don’t return to streets.