ALTHOUGH many people make promises to God when they are going through hard times and forget to fulfill them, Rose Gakwandi Mukankaka kept her promise to God after surviving the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
She was at home with children when all hell broke loose. Her late husband was away attending a conference.
Their house was a stone throw away from Butare prison. After the death of former president Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, a roadblock was set up at the prison just next to the gate leading to Mukankaka’s home.
“We could not get out of our home. We stayed indoors for the next three months but luckily my husband miraculously made it back home on April 16, 1994,” Mukankaka narrates.
She reminisces the tragic history with shock. From her house she could see houses burning to ashes, people being killed and guns rattling amidst fear and terror as the Tutsi tried to flee for safety.
At that very moment she made vow: “God if you protect me, my family and everyone who is in this house, and if one day we are able to get out of this house alive, I will serve you.”
In company of her seven children, two brothers and husband, they prayed day and night that the militias don’t break in the house.
“I remember one day one of my children said ‘this is the end of the world that they always talk about in the Bible’; I realised this was a very hard situation for them since they were used to playing outside. I did my best to protect them until we were rescued by the Rwanda Patriotic Front who were also very surprised that we had survived,” she recalls.
Indeed her prayer came to pass and surviving the Genocide was a turning point in her life.
Mukankaka was later to establish the Mwana Ukundwa association which can be loosely translated as ‘Beloved Child Association’.
In 1995 Mukankaka resigned her job at Rwandan Association for the Promotion of Family Welfare (ARBEF) in Huye to fulfill her promise to God which entailed taking care of orphans.
Mukankaka’s parents and her siblings were killed in 1994.
She says immediately after the Genocide, she always thought of her deceased parents and wished that they could miraculously walk into her life.
“I sat and thought that if at my age I was feeling like that, how about the young orphans? This is when I decided to get children off the streets and tried to get foster families, make them feel loved and find ways in which they can be helped to have a bright future,” Mukankaka explains the start of her journey in helping children orphaned by the Genocide.
Association Mwana Ukundwa was registered at the Rwandan Ministry of Justice on July 31, 1997 and it gained its legal status in 2001. It currently operates in Karongi, Huye and Gikondo in Kigali where the head offices are located.
While starting the initiative of taking care of these children, she didn’t know how it was going to work out. She did most of the work from home.
She knocked on doors of every family asking if they had space to take on orphans as foster families. She made it her business to find ways these children will survive and go to school. Many took note of her golden heart and wanted to give a hand.
“I was approached by several people, like the director of Strømme Foundation in Rwanda, who asked me how they could be of help.”
She later approached Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) which helped a lot in taking care of the orphans that had already been put in foster homes.
“Many people got to know about what I was doing and they decided to offer assistance and that way, the association was able to get funds. We have helped so many orphans that it’s hard for me to know the numbers off head,” she reveals.
Her association also closely works with the church and other stakeholders to provide for orphans and vulnerable children through foster families and other support mechanisms.
We offer education both at primary and secondary level , child sponsorship, school fees, provision of uniforms and scholastic materials , medical care, school and home based progress monitoring, community based education as well as taking care of children living with HIV/Aids,” Mukankaka says.
The association offers counseling services to children and parents living with HIV as well as providing nutritious meals to infected children regularly.
Currently the association pays school fees for over 250 HIV infected/affected children between the ages of 4 and18 years.
“Our main role is to talk to these children about living a positive life and we take them through programmes on why they should take their medication on a daily basis. Taking medication is so hard for these children and they need guidance and monitoring that is why we meet them every Saturday,” Mukankaka explains.
Like the meaning of the association’s name, she says every child needs to be loved. Whether a child has parents or is an orphan, they deserve to be loved, taken care of and be protected from the harsh world.
“I feel it’s what I have to do as long as I’m in this world, based on the promise I made to God for protecting us during the Genocide,” says Mukankaka.
WHAT THE BENEFECIARIES OF THE ASSOCIATION SAY
At just the age of 12, Louise Mukamwezi lost her family during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. But a year later Mukankaka, who many beneficiaries fondly call Mama Rose, came to her rescue.
“Mama Rose started taking care of me in 1995 and I was living at her home. I never lacked anything. When I lost my parents, I thought my life was doomed. But I will always be grateful to Mama Rose for giving me and other thousands of children hope for a great future,” Mukamwezi expresses.
She says: “Mama Rose never notices how she changed our lives and she is still impacting many other children’s lives today. There are still many children that benefit from the association.”
32-year-old Mukamwezi is currently a programmes coordinator at Association Mwana Ukundwa. She was able to go to school thanks to Mama Rose;
The Bachelors of Clinical Psychology graduate from the National University of Rwanda decided to put into practice, the common saying that one good turn deserves another. Rather than look for a dream job, Mukamwezi opted to work for the association.
“I wanted to give back to the Association because without Mama Rose’s kindness and love, I don’t know where most of us would be now. I also love children and I would want to make their lives better and I can only do that if I work for the association,” Mukamwezi explains.
She also says that she offered Clinical Psychology at university so that she could be able to help counsel people who encounter traumatic situations since there are many cases especially related to the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
For Marie Claire Ingabire, she was first introduced to Association Mwana Ukundwa in 1999 and she was offered a home with other four orphans.
“After the Genocide, I had no one to take care of me, I was nursing both physical and emotional wounds but when I met Mama Rose, everything in my life changed. I was offered a home, food and parental guidance during the most trying time of my life. I’m so grateful to Mama Rose. Even today as a mother, I still go to her for guidance,” Ingabire narrates.
34-year-old Ingabire says that she owes her life to Mama Rose.
“I remember there were times when some unknown people used to terrorize us in our home probably because we were orphans and survivors of the Genocide and when we told Mama Rose, she rented a house for us near her home and constantly monitored our well being. She has been a blessing to many of us and I know God will bless her more,” says Ingabire.
The soft-spoken Ingabire got married in 2003 and is blessed with two daughters and a son.
“During my introduction, I was so happy that it was Mama Rose who gave me away. It will always be one of the best days of my life and I owe it to her,” Ingabire discloses.
She adds: “I was not able to go to school because of the disability I attained during the Genocide; I even tried a tailoring course with the help of the association but my fractured leg would not allow me. Luckily, I was given a job at the association as a receptionist and I will always be grateful.”