In the beautiful, undulating green hills of Northern Rwanda, one family went about their daily errands harvesting food. About 80 percent of Rwandans are agricultural farmers who depend and earn a living from subsistence farming contributing 15 percent of the country’s GDP.
Esperance Nyiramajyambere, 32 years, and her husband, Theogene Ndagijimana, 38 years, woke up early in the morning on May 15, 2010 and went to the gardens to harvest Irish potatoes. Their three children tagged along.
That day was unlike any other day. A tragedy due to a fire accident led to the loss of their five-month-old baby and the incapacitation of their four-year-old son who sustained 3rd degree burns.
Nyiramajyambere said she cannot afford to pay for the least treatment available to alleviate her son’s pain. She painfully narrates what happened.
“I went with my husband and children to the gardens to harvest Irish potatoes. There was a nearby grass thatched kraal that was used by herdsmen to rest as they watched over their grazing cattle at a distance so that thieves would not steal them. That day it was free and empty of herdsmen,” she said.
Nyiramajyambere and her husband are farmers in the village of Basiret, Nyarushamba cell located in Nyakiriba Sector, Rubavu (former Gisenyi) District in the Northern part of Rwanda. They periodically get jobs to till land, plant and harvest crops in other people’s gardens and are paid after a farming season is over.
“We went with our sons since we could not leave them alone at home. The baby was five months old, followed by a four-year-old and the eldest was 10 years. I put the baby to sleep in the kraal since it was very windy outside; his four-year-old brother also rested besides him,” she said.
Nyiramajyambere’s 10-year-old son was playing outside the kraal. He lit a fire that accidentally caught the grass thatched kraal. It burnt furiously due to the gushing winds.
“We saw the fire and rushed to pull out our children. We tried so hard to get them out but failed because there was so much fire and the grass was very dry…the fire burnt the house like an inferno and it was impossible to get in. Our kids were in and there was nothing we could do at that point.
“We kept on trying and eventually found a way in and pulled out our children,” Nyiramajyambere slowly recalls.
Nyiramajyambere has major burn scars on her right hand that she incurred in the process of rescuing her babies.
“They were badly burnt but still alive; we rushed to Gisenyi hospital for help. After 10 days the five-month-old baby died at the hospital. Thereafter, they referred us to CHK to get further treatment for our child since there was nothing much they could do,” she explained.
Four-year-old Niyigema Ndagije was taken to the Central Hospital of Kigali (CHK) where he was placed under intensive care for months. His mother lived with uncertainty regarding his life for months.
“These are just problems and they are beyond my control. One of my children is dead, the other is badly burnt and there is nothing much I can do to change the situation, I can’t even touch my baby without inflicting more pain because of the burns.
“I feel so distressed by the whole situation,” Nyiramajyambere said.
She said they do not have enough money to get their baby the treatment he needs to stay alive and get better.
“I’m not angry with my eldest son for playing with fire,” she pauses and sighs.
“It was an accident and there was no way he would have wanted to burn the kraal. No I’m not angry with him because God’s plans are God’s plans. God created everything and there is no other way the situation could have been different,” she asserts.
Nyiramajyambere has a phone that she uses to communicate with her husband who returned to the village in Rubavu to take care of things and find work there.
“He hasn’t exactly abandoned me here but he needs to go back and make sure that everything is okay back home,” she said.
In August, Nyiramajyambere came into contact with Isabelle Kamariza, the founder of Solid Africa, an NGO that helps vulnerable patients at public health facilities. She was volunteering at CHK working with stranded patients. For the first time in five months, Nyiramajyambere saw a glimmer hope for her burnt child’s life.
Kamariza has raised money, bought medicine, pushed for the baby to get examined at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali and covered most of the hospital bills at CHK over time.
“I met Isabelle at CHK at a time when we had several bills for medicine and treatment. It was a difficult time because I had no money left. I have no parents to help us and we spent all our earnings on our transportation fare to Kigali.
“I’m glad that Isabelle found me and tried to know about my life situation. It makes me have hope in life.
“I can only hope that people like her continue helping my baby to get fine so that I can return home and be with my family,” she said.
For several months, Kamariza under her NGO—Solid Africa, advocated and raised awareness about baby Niyigema Ndagije’s situation. Finally, through the Rotaract Club of Rwanda, one member raised USD300 at her place that was used to pay for Ndagije’s medication.
“I was very touched by Nyiramajyambere’s story and wanted to help her and her baby, but I didn’t know how since at the time I found her, I was still asking different people for small money and milk to take to the patients at the hospital,” Kamariza said.
Kamariza’s tireless hard work has paid off. She came into contact with the Barbara Stiefel Foundation, in the USA and through the foundation, a surgeon in Kenya’s Gertrude’s Health Children Hospital has offered to perform four surgeries on Ndagije’s head so that his plastered wounds can begin to heal.
She escorted Nyiramajyambere and her son to Nairobi, and left them in the good hands of the surgeons at Gertrude’s Health Children Hospital. Four surgeries will bring hope in the life of baby Ndagije and his entire family—three have been completed and the final surgery on his burnt hands will be performed this week on Thursday, November 2, 2010. However, they need to raise money for the hospital expenses in Nairobi.
Kamariza said, “Just seeing people leaving hospitals is what makes me work harder. It could be me or anyone in that situation. People need to know that they do not have to give a million to make a difference in other people’s lives…anything small can make a huge difference.”