Giving Genocide survivors the meaning of life

If it were her normal trajectory, Dr Constance Van Horne would have started the month of April in Canada, her home country where she would have taken advantage of the spring break to visit her family.
Dr Van Horne (L) and Mukantwali share a light moment as they walk in Kigali last week.
Dr Van Horne (L) and Mukantwali share a light moment as they walk in Kigali last week.

If it were her normal trajectory, Dr Constance Van Horne would have started the month of April in Canada, her home country where she would have taken advantage of the spring break to visit her family.

It is a time she normally enjoys, especially when she gets to hang out with her nieces in Montreal.

But the Assistant Professor of Strategic Management at Zayed University’s College of Business in Abu Dhabi, UAE, has chosen a different route—a trip to Rwanda. She used late March and early April to attend Berthe Mukantwali’s graduation from her development studies at the Kigali Independent University.

Mukantwali is a 28-year-old survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She lost her family.

She endearingly calls the professor ‘auntie’, perhaps the best way to thank her for having paid her tuition fees for her degree course which earned her a Bachelor's Degree in Development Studies from Kigali Independent University.

First-time meeting


Dr Van Horne, or Dr Connie as she is commonly called by members of the Rwandan community in Canada, had never physically met the student since she started sponsoring her studies through Ibuka-Education, a charity registered in Canada to support orphans of Genocide at Rwandan universities.

She struggled with holding back her tears when she finally met her in Kigali, clad in her graduation gown.

“It was just very special,” Dr Van Horne said as she described her first person-to-person encounter with her beneficiary and showing pictures of the graduation party she took with her mobile phone. “I am very proud of her.”

The professor is a founding member of Ibuka-Education, which she and many Rwandans in Canada founded after realising that support programmes in Rwanda could not cater for the university education of all young Genocide survivors.

The chairman of the Rwandan Diaspora in Canada, Dr Egide Karuranga, was among the founding members of the charity. He had broached the sponsorship idea to Dr Van Horne when they were both students at Laval University.

“We had to mobilise 120 foster parents all over the world, 40 per cent of them non-Rwandans,” Dr Karuranga told The New Times as he described the campaign to find sponsors for the students.

About 50 of Ibuaka’s beneficiaries have so far graduated from universities across the country.

“Both of us knew that it’s through education that we could change lives,” Dr Van Horne said as she described her early work with Dr Karuranga to find sponsors and register the charity.

And its work came in time for Mukantwali who was lacking enough marks to qualify for government university scholarship under the Fund for the Support of Genocide Survivors when she completed secondary school.

As she remembered five years ago when her hopes to join university were elusive and compared it with two weeks ago when she graduated with Second Class Honors, she only had her ‘aunt’ to thank.

“I felt very happy (at the graduation) and I would think about how aunt helped me and encouraged me,” Mukantwali said. “Apart from money, she also encouraged me and I would always work hard so as to show her a good report.”

But most importantly, she says, “the feeling that we have positively changed a life is one of the best feelings in the world.”

She hopes that Mukantwali will find a job soon and if she doesn’t, she advises that her and fellow graduates create an entrepreneurship club and invite successful people to advise them on how they can start their own businesses.

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News