When Anne Heyman, the founder of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, died in a freak horse ride accident last year, the world mourned her.
She was mourned by men and women of authority for her work in changing the world into a better place for the less privileged.
Emmanuel Nkundunkundiye is one of the many who were touched by Heyman’s work.
From one of the poorest hills in Karongi District, Nkunda, as he is commonly known, has forged a life in the course of five years to win himself a full scholarship in one of the most renowned varsities: University of Pennsylvania, US.
Nkunda is an alumnus of Agahozo-Shalom, a village set up by Heyman as a home and school for the orphans and vulnerable children to acquire education and discover their potential.
“I grew up with my grandmother in a small hut after losing my father in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which also cost me my mother... she was captured by militia gangs, beaten and raped and left disabled,” Nkunda said as he narrated the story of his life during a Stand Up and Be Counted fundraising event at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village last week.
Nkunda saves his emotions for the canvas where he pores it all in art. It is this passion and the talent that he displays that has seen him going places.
Unfortunately, the old woman who raised him with the little she had did not live to see the grandson shining. She died of cancer three years ago.
“I couldn’t speak English five years ago. I saw Kigali for the first time in 2008, I never lived in a house with electricity until I was 17 years old, when I came to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village,” he said.
“Regardless of where I started from, I now have a full scholarship in one of the best universities in the whole world, the University of Pennsylvania.”
A childhood in misery
Nkunda’s early childhood was a yoke of misery. He experienced no love, neither did anyone express interest in him. He was just a ‘poor boy’ who lost the little he had in the Genocide.
He resorted to drawing since his passion was art – it was the only way he felt connected to the world.
Nkunda is one of the many less privileged children that were picked by Heyman in 2008 as she opened up the village.
For the five years he spent at the village, his life was changed; he realised his potential, explored his talent and now, against all odds, says he is out to conquer the world and change it into a better place.
Nkunda says he is inspired by the quote, “It is not who you are that holds you back, it is who you think you are not.”
“This is not for me, it’s for my country and my people. I am no longer haunted by images of digging barefooted on a small piece of land of my grandmother; I feel a visionary and servant leader, someone the country needs, someone who can and will create jobs for Rwandans and someone who can step forward when the easiest was to hold back and feel sorry for my humble background,” he said.
Nkunda’s biggest moment in life is when he was selected to be the speaker during his class’ graduation and President Paul Kagame was in attendance.
He presented the President with one of his paintings.
In paying tribute to Heyman, Nkunda said he will serve others regardless of how much he will have to sacrifice to make someone’s life a little bit better.
“The first chapter of my life was written by others in history by circumstances and hardships. They authored many sub stories in my life. I no longer want anyone to determine my own story apart from my own,” he said.
“We cannot start a new beginning but we can start a new ending because we can. Our lives don’t become better just by chance but by change. Our country is where it is today because our leaders brought change.
“Rwanda is probably of the only place where opportunities are shared, given to you not because you have the most money, but because you deserve it.”
Nkunda is the only one in his family linage who has ever graduated from high school, let alone speaking English.
Through the First Lady–who presided over the fundraiser–Nkunda passed to a message to President Kagame expressing his gratitude to his leadership and pledging to fully serve the “great vision he set for us.”
“I want to make this promise; I will come back to Rwanda after my education and engage in nation building… success is not defined by how much worth you own, but by how many lives you can impact,” he said.
Nkunda is one of the many children who have moved from grass to grace at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The village has about 500 children.
They spend time inventing manufacturing and studying (for five years), thereafter, they graduate with extra skills which helps them create jobs for themselves.