HERO: Marie Claudine Mukamabano
Exclusive one-on-one interviews with extraordinary individuals working on behalf of women, children, and families worldwide.
“As Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in Africa, real activism is required to speak on behalf of child-orphans and bring substantial help to these innocent children.”
“My vision for Rwanda’s orphans is to live without fear of irrational prejudices and any tragedy such as the genocide ever reoccurring. We can foster an environment of love and forgiveness by educating youth to lead a better life.”
WHY SHE’S A HERO
Having lost her mother to genocide, Marie Claudine has turned that loss into hope. Her drive to help fellow orphans is fueled by faith, forgiveness, and a desire for sustained peace for future generations.
A CHAT WITH HERO MARIE CLAUDINE MUKAMABANO
IMOW: What motivated you to work on behalf of Rwandan orphans?
Marie Claudine: With the loss of my mother, I experienced the suffering and the agony felt by other orphans. This motivated me to create this project, to help the surviving orphans to overcome their trauma and know that at the very least someone cares about them. It is hard for orphans to feel as if anyone cares. As a genocide survivor, I can speak from personal and practical experience. I tell personal stories that relate with real-life experience and what it was like during the genocides and long suffering post-genocide. I understand the utter devastation a child feels when they lose their parents: their whole family and everyone that could love, protect, and support them, gone. A great concern also is that many of these children are not in school. Over five thousand genocide orphans are languishing and looking at a future of abject poverty. As Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in Africa, real activism is required to speak on behalf of child-orphans and bring substantial help to these innocent children.
IMOW: Tell me about your work.
Marie Claudine: I founded Kuki Ndiho Rwanda Orphans Support Project in 2005. Kuki Ndiho was initially created to serve children orphaned by the violence of genocide, but now we also serve children orphaned by the plight of AIDS in my country. First, the Support Project is a charity established in remembrance of the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. We pioneer programs that bring psychological healing to victims of the genocide, and help them recover from the trauma. We mobilize resources to support the survivors of the genocide, and children who lost their parents due to AIDS. We serve 200 orphans in two orphanages in Kigali City: the Gisimba Orphanage and the Kimisagara Orphanage. We also help orphans & vulnerable children at Muhima Primary school and the Holy Family Parish.
IMOW: As a former orphaned child yourself, you have achieved great things. What do you envision for Rwanda's orphans and children for themselves?
Marie Claudine: It’s a humiliating, terrifying, and heartbreaking experience being an orphan. The bitter experiences and emotional losses are enormous and without explanation that a child can understand. The greatest loss a child can experience is the loss of the love of his or her biological parents. There’s a real difference between being loved by your biological parents and being cared for by foster parents. I envision a better Rwanda where genocide survivors could be empowered and enabled to realize their potential as vital resources to their country. Children need to be loved and cared for, given lots of attention and encouragement, provided with proper education and professional training to become responsible citizens. And it’s only by doing so that Rwanda will be able to move past its history of genocide, and become a better country where local people can reconcile, mend cultural, religious and political differences, and become positive contributors to society. My vision for Rwanda’s orphans is to live without fear of irrational prejudices and any tragedy such as the genocide ever reoccurring. We can foster an environment of love and forgiveness by educating youth to lead a better life. My long-term goal is to assist them to be peace-builders and to be financially independent with the tools they need in order to succeed.
IMOW: Tell me about your mother. What does motherhood mean to you?
Marie Claudine: My mother was very caring and warm-hearted. She always opened her arms wide to all the children in our community who approached her for help, especially when they were hungry. She was a committed Catholic Christian. She was devoted to community work through the church and served the interests of all the people around her. I learned from my mother to be caring, tolerant, hard working, and respectful of all people regardless their age, education, origin, ethnicity or race. I also learned from her to be God-fearing and I have learned how to put my life in God’s hands. She taught me to be devoted to serving God despite the situations that I may face in life…I would love to have children and family of my own. Motherhood is an experience of highest worth; once the right opportunity presents itself, I would never hesitate to be a mother. Motherhood to me means love, caring, tenderness, sacrifice, life and peace. My lovely mother was such a kind and loving human being who cared for others. From her I learned to stand up for others when they are in need.
IMOW: What accomplishment have you been most proud of?
Marie Claudine: The creation of my organization as an immigrant in a foreign country without any experience in this field is my biggest achievement. I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a great deal. I literally had nothing, no one. I can now read, speak and communicate in English. I’m able to express my views in a professional and convincing manner. I’m able to mobilize funds, educational materials and clothing for the children that benefit from our program. I’ve been able to mobilize and send volunteers and interns to work with our project beneficiaries and local communities in Rwanda. I’ve been blessed to meet and interact with amazing people like UN Secretary General Ban- Ki Moon and legislators, politicians and activists whose life work has been to help the needy. I’ve had an opportunity to meet dedicated celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and former first lady Miss Laura Bush. I was awarded with an Ambassador for Peace award in 2010 by the Universal Peace Federation at the United Nations, and last year on Africa Day I received recognition from The Assembly of State of New York for turning a life of hardship into one of leadership and advocacy. In a personal capacity, I also serve as a mentor to many of the children, helping them build their confidence and give them inspiration to accomplish in their lives.
IMOW: Wow, so much to be proud of and you are so young! An odd question, but I noticed that you wear a lot of purple, is there significance to that?
Marie Claudine: I wear a lot of purple because it is the color we use in Rwanda to remember the lives of innocent people who were killed during the genocide; to give them the respect and the honor they didn’t have when they were killed. As Rwanda genocide survivors, we have decided to wear purple in remembrance of the genocide. It helps us reflect on the past, and also brings emotional healing and reconciliation.
IMOW: Tell us one thing many people may not know about you.
Marie Claudine: Most people don’t know that I am a good basketball player, to the extent that I was the only girl in the all-male basketball team at my school. I’m also a dancer and motivational speaker too.
IMOW: What is the connection between your work advocating for peace and the Rwandan Orpan Support Project?
Marie Claudine: I hosted the International Day for Peace at Columbia University in collaboration with the African Education Center at Teachers College last year (September 21, 2011). As a Rwandan genocide orphan survivor, I understand the cost of war and the promise of peace; I serve in the interest of peace as a reminder of our ongoing commitment to forgiveness, especially in the advent of the Rwandan genocide. This is why celebrating Peace Day is important for us at Kuki Ndiho Rwanda Orphans Support Project. We continue to advocate for and raise awareness of the plight of the orphan survivors of the Rwandan genocide because even seventeen years later, many still critically require our support.
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