Genocide 1994 – The healing and emancipatory power of HE

Safi Mukundwa is still pained when she thinks about her family members killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi that left her orphaned and alone. But she is also grateful for the government’s support, which put her through a university degree, and helped her to stand economically on her own.

The annual 100-day commemoration period, which started on 7 April, honours over one million innocent people killed in 100 days.

Mukundwa was a seven-year-old primary school pupil when the genocide began. She was saved by a man who found her hiding in a bush. The man cared for her until she found her uncle.

When her uncle died she moved in with an aunt who left the country for Europe when Mukundwa was in the final years of high school.

Early independence

“I started an independent life at a tender age. I would go off to school leaving the house closed and it would only be re-opened when school closed for holidays,” said Mukundwa, who is now a 33-year-old mother of three and founder of a non-governmental organisation supporting vulnerable women.

Despite her hardship, she was determined to complete secondary school and attend university. When she failed to secure the results to qualify for a public scholarship, she was put on the list of government-sponsored students to be supported by the Genocide Survivors’ Assistance Fund (FARG in French) and enrolled for a business administration degree at the Adventist University of Central Africa in Kigali, graduating with an MBA.

Through the fund, the government caters for school and university fees and monthly living allowances for learners.

Mukundwa is one of 38,174 genocide survivors who benefited from government-sponsored education at university level, according to figures from FARG.

“Education was impossible without support. Especially, university education is expensive and the majority of us struggled even in secondary school as getting transport was hard.”

A better life

Accessing higher education gave her the skills to create her own job and live a better life.

Mukundwa is the founder of SafiLife Organisation, founded in 2012 to help young, single mothers acquire technical and vocational education and training (TVET) skills in areas such as knitting and tailoring. So far, she has supported over 100 women.

“Young single mothers were the target because they live a bad life … I wanted to restore hope among them and give back to the community as my hope was also restored,” she said.

Mukundwa said she mobilises support for her venture from among well-wishers she met at the Kigali Genocide Memorial site when she shared testimonies.

Her main sponsor is Devon Ogden from Los Angeles and she has also received support from the Genocide Survivors’ Fund.

In addition to supporting young mothers, Mukundwa has also paid fees for 11 young people who have since graduated from various universities and three who are still studying.

Focus on higher education

“University education helped to open my mind and restored my hope. It boosted my critical thinking skills and now I support others, building their capacity. The purpose is to continue supporting vulnerable people with a focus on higher education if means allow,” she said.

Jean Pierre Nkundibiza (27) is currently studying economics at the University of Kigali. He was one year old during the genocide. He and his three siblings are also beneficiaries of FARG.

“After the genocide it was not easy even to attend primary education, but we did our best. We lived with our mother and did not have means to pay for secondary education and the government intervened. I am also at the university thanks to the government,” he said.

Janvier Ntamuhoza is now an IT manager in a company in Kigali. He says that FARG helped him get a degree in business information and technology.

“The government has been my parents when we had lost our biological ones and I am grateful. I have a degree in business information and technology without which I would not have a job,” said Ntamuhoza, who studied at the University of Rwanda.

Professor Philip Cotton, the University of Rwanda’s vice-chancellor, hailed the resilience of genocide survivors and their support for each other through the Genocide Survivors Students’ Association (AERG in French).