During the celebration of the Family Month, in Rwanda, the Ministry of Gender and Family promotion (MIGEPROF) further strengthened their stand in the fight against violence inflicted on children.
Damien Ngabonziza, 71 years, a Consultant on Children Rights at UNICEF, said that he has lived through several crises as a child to understand the impact violence has on any child.
Born in 1940 in Nyamagabe District, he is the first child among seven siblings.
“I have lived through several crises in this country. I was forced out of the country for the first time in 1963 and my father was killed during that time,” Ngabonziza gravely recalls.
He fled to Belgium at a time when he had completed his O’ Level education. He joined the Catholic University of Louvain where he pursued a Bachelors Degree in Psychology.
“I came back in 1970 and I was assigned a job as a teacher at Rwaza Girls Teachers Training College in Musaze district. In 1973 there was an upraising and we fled to Burundi,” Ngabonziza recalls.
He spent four years in Burundi where he married Thaciana Mukandego. In 1977 he got a job in Burkina Faso as an International consultant till 1980.
“I moved to Switzerland where we gave birth to our last child. I hated living as a refugee and so I came back here with my wife although my children still live in Switzerland. We visit them and they come here as well.
“Moving our children from country to country has somehow affected them. For example, the fact that they are not able to communicate in Kinyarwanda is a major handicap for them. Also being an African in a European state was sometimes too hard to deal with because even if you were a citizenship of that country racism always manifests,” he said.
Being the eldest son in his family and having lost a father at a tender age, Ngabonziza had to work hard and be responsible.
“All my siblings grew up here and they were faced with a lot of discrimination as a result of ethnicity; their education affected. Although we moved together to Burundi in 1973 they had gone through unbearable times. To them I’m more of a father figure than a brother,” Ngabonziza expresses.
He said his mother is alive and kicking and they she is their source of comfort and encouragement.
Rwanda still has a large number of child headed households that sprouted after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. These children undergo immense challenges that force them miss the joys of childhood.
“I think it’s a terrible situation and I would not wish anybody to be in that position. The child heading a household has no childhood. It’s about dealing with responsibility and lack. The siblings also lack parental love as they grow,” Ngabonziza explains.
He said violence against children is intolerable.
“I have a broader sense on violence against children. Violence against children is the failure to fulfill their rights. If you don’t help your child through school, you are violating his or her right since you are hampering their future,” Ngabonziza expresses.
He said that the best way to discipline a child at any age is through dialogue and not verbal or physical abuse.
“If you’re close to a child there is nothing you can’t achieve with them. The problem is that most parents don’t spend time with their children from when they are babies. In the olden times children went to bed with their parents reading to them bedtime stories,” Ngabonziza advises.
He has been involved in children matters for the last 34 years and he attributes his work to a combination of factors especially the opportunities that came his way.
“Going to Europe for further studies was a great chance because that is where I acquired the skills that I have. For instance, I had a francophone background and I had to save up to pay for summer school in England so that I could learn English. I did this because I wanted to learn from the best psychology writers,” Ngabonziza said.
Valens Nkurinkiyinka, Policy and Strategy Specialist in MIGEPROF/ Global Fund Project described Ngabonziza as a strong and hardworking person regardless of his age.
“I have worked with Ngabonziza for the last three years, he respects all his colleagues whether he is their superiors or not. He has a good sense of humor and loves sports a lot. We always laugh at his jokes,” Nkurinkiyinka said.
Ngabonziza is eloquent and multitalented because at his age he plays tennis for an hour, three times a week.