100 days. 1,000,000 dead. It’s been only 21 years since one of the bloodiest events in human history. The Rwandan genocide began swiftly, and in three months, an estimated one million Rwandans were dead.
Rwanda’s ethnic tensions had been high between the Hutu and minority Tutsi communities for decades. Conflict came to a head on the evening of April 6, 1994, when Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and he was killed. While those responsible for the president’s assassination remain unidentified, the extremist Hutus blamed the Tutsi people and the genocide began that night.
Radical Hutus targeted the Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Neighbors killed neighbors, friends killed friends, and husbands killed wives. Citizens reported that the Hutu-run government threatened to kill its own Hutu people if they did not kill the Tutsi themselves.
Rwandan Charity Mutesi was two years old at the time of the genocide, but it still affects her and millions of others two decades later. She is frank in describing her fellow Rwandans.
“People are still broken.”
Soon after the genocide began, Mutesi, along with her parents and siblings, were among those fortunate enough to escape to nearby Uganda.
“We only know that my uncle died fighting. We don’t know where or even if he’s buried. I wish I’d met him.”
Mutesi and her family returned to Rwanda once it was safe. Two decades later, she is now a business student at LeTourneau University, but more than that, she is an advocate for her country that is now home to an overwhelming population of orphans and widows of the genocide.
“I have grown up in a country with broken people. There are very, very many orphans and widows. It breaks me seeing people being hopeless,” she said.
And it does break her – there is a distinct urgency in her voice as she explains the plight of the Rwandan people, especially women. Most are unable to find employment and are left destitute.
“To me, I see women being unable to work as being the main reason there’s a lot of poverty. If a woman can work, there can be a lot of change,” she said.
According to Mutesi, many African women have only one option for survival: to get married.
“That’s not what I want for women. I don’t want them to look to a man and say ‘I want a man to be my everything.’ I want husbands and wives to love each other but I also want women to be independent on their own.”
Mutesi took that desire to Senegal, where she interned with the United Nations in December 2014-January 2015. When she was initially told she would be filing and making coffee, she approached her supervisor with a petition to do more extensive work. Her request was granted, and she approached her time there with the goal of furthering independence of women.
During her internship, she traveled to villages to research women’s need for work and met with banks and beneficiaries to study how microfinance institutions could help African women be gainfully employed. At the end of her time there, she presented her findings to the UN.
Her internship was not the beginning of her work to aid victims of the genocide. She spent her youth working with Never Again, a human rights organization born out of response to the genocide that aims to build peace in Rwanda through its citizens. Mutesi was president of the chapter at her school, where she worked to educate young Rwandans about the genocide.
“Our main idea at Never Again was to keep young people from growing up with an ideology of hate. Some youth have too much hate in them; they are broken. We were being an impact on them.”
With Never Again, she also took part in fundraisers for orphanages and spent time with children who were left orphans from the genocide. She recalls one particular girl with fondness: “When we used to go to the orphanage, I would feel like I wasn’t doing enough, so I ‘adopted’ one girl. I worry for her like I’m her mother. I hope to go home soon and see all the girls again.”
Nor was her time at the UN the end of Mutesi’s work for the healing of Rwanda. She is resolute in her plan to use her business degree from LETU to start an organization that will empower women to be independent and propel them out of poverty.
Remembering genocide victims at the Walk to Remember
|Her Excellency Prof. Mathilde|
and featured Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, as a speaker.
Rwanda has, for more than 20 years, been a place of suffering, devastated from the genocide for the majority of Mutesi’s existence. Her desire to dedicate her life to help rebuild her home is palpable. When she speaks of Rwanda, it’s indisputable she feels the pain of the genocide victims, but her voice is also full of hope for a restored future. She is that future.