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I’m 39 years old. I’m married and I have two children of my own, a son and a daughter. And I have adopted five more children, because of the genocide.
I was at school when the genocide happened. I had eight brothers. Seven of them died during the genocide. And my father too. Only my mother, one brother, and I survived.
After the genocide, I really didn’t feel like doing much. After what I saw, I thought that my life had ended right there. Yes, I managed to survive, but at first I could not bring myself to like the country. But when I started to see once more people I was not expecting to see – when they started to return to me and reenter my life – I started to come around. And, like that, my life got another chance.
Seeing my brother helped turn things around. He had been hit by some bullets and I didn’t think that he would survive. I had told myself that I would die alone. But someone helped him and he returned to me. I was very happy and now he is alive.
For a while too, I thought I would never see my mom again. I tried to find her but everyone kept telling me that she had died. Again, I felt like my life had stopped. I didn’t get married and I didn’t go back to school. But then, one day, after a long search, I managed to find her. It was a miracle.
We were homeless for a while and life was very hard. I found some work and managed to save some money which I used to rent a small house, with just one room, and my mother and I lived there together.
It was during this time that I met my husband at a friend’s home. This friend escaped the genocide, and I used to go there to hear his testimony, and my husband used to go there too. We met and got to know each other and started a relationship. His first wife was killed in the genocide. He was my first love. I loved this man because he used to tell me how he escaped the genocide and how he’s now surviving and raising his children on his own. And I told you earlier, I love orphans. When I went to visit him at his home, I could see how he struggled with his children. I fell in love with his children, and I agreed to take care of them. So we agreed that we should live together.
I had a dream of getting married officially, with a proper wedding, and when I told him that, he refused. And that was our first confrontation. He wanted me to move in to look after his children, while he was out looking for a job so he could support them. “We’ll see, maybe later,” he said. When I said that I would not marry him without an official wedding, he told me, “I know that you love children. I think you should join me in raising these children and later you can ask God for the official wedding.”
I went to his home because he asked me to, and I saw the children, who were very, very poor with no care. It was then that I decided to join him, to take care of those children. The marriage was really challenging. We had good times and bad—which is normal in marriage. The good thing was that I became a woman and I was respected by my society. I was called a woman, a wife of somebody. And I also bore children. I had a daughter, then twins, then a boy. But the twins died shortly after they were born. That hurt me a lot. They died. I could have had four children, but now I have only two.
I once thought marriage would provide support to me as well, that it wasn’t just me giving support to the man. But you discover in life that you don’t always get what you expect; instead, you just get disappointed. So sometimes I am disappointed because my expectations are not met. When you live with somebody, you expect to sit together, to plan together. But my husband and I don’t plan together. He does what he wants. I do what I want. Really, I feel bad when I say that. But something which I do appreciate is that he managed to give me an official wedding. In the end, I convinced him, and we had our official wedding. But still, planning together was a challenge for my marriage—until now.
In the past, my husband would sometimes beat me. He would knock me on the head in such a way that no one could even see that I had been beaten. So, I could not even report him to the police, because there was no evidence. And he wanted me to stay at home. He didn’t want me to go out and meet other women that I could talk with.
So, to have more peace at home, I used to lock myself in the house and do all the chores. But later, a friend of mine heard about Women for Women International. She went there to enroll for herself and helped me to get information. This was after I had just delivered my twins who died, so I couldn’t go. My daughter went there and helped me to fill out the form. And, later, I escaped. I say that I escaped, because I left the house when I could be sure that my husband was not there, and he didn’t know for a month that I went to the organization.
But eventually he found out, because he went on leave and stayed at home, but me, I had to leave, I had to go for training. And so I told him that I was going, even if he didn’t want me to. Later, we had a session on women’s rights. And when I came back from that session, I sat down with him and explained everything that I had learned and I told him, “From today on, if you beat me again, I am going to report you. Because, I now know my rights.” My husband’s response was, “My wife, who has given me poison? Because this is the first time I hear you speaking like this. I have told you that women are not good. When did you join them? They have taught you bad things now. You are starting to tell me bad stories.” He followed me one day and watched me as I entered the Women for Women office. He waited for me outside until I got out of the training. When I came out again, he told me that he had been following me.
I told him, “This is only for women. If you try to enter the Women for Women office, the guards are going to beat you.” He responded, “Ahhh, woman, you are now who you are because God has given me a watch.”
So, my husband started treating me like an independent woman, because I now did what I felt was good for me. And after a few months we started learning beading skills. And me, because I loved it, I could bead for the whole day, while others would do it only for some hours. And I came to learn it very quickly. And I would tell my husband that now that we are learning skills, it would take us the full day. That way, he would not ask me again where I was. I stayed and learned with two groups—when once finished, I joined another group to keep learning. And after one month, we already started to see progress. And he started seeing me, wearing clothes which he did not buy for me, and good shoes which he did not provide for me, and he started giving me the opportunity to plan with him at home.
I discovered what beadwork could do because of a neighbor I had who was extremely poor. She had no support like me. But one day, I went to her home and found everything had changed, like she suddenly had a rich man to provide for her: good chairs, everything clean. I asked her how she managed to change her life. And she told me that it was because of the beads. There was an association of widows from the genocide supported by a woman who trained to make pins and found a market in Europe. So, this is how my neighbor managed to buy good chairs in her home, and her life was really very transformed. I asked her if I could join the association too and she told me as I was not a genocide widow, I could not. But, I always kept that desire to do the beadwork in my heart.
Because I knew the importance of beads, I tried to convince my group at Women for Women that we should do beads, but most of the women could not understand the importance of doing beads. So I tried to explain it to them, sharing the story of my neighbor and how her life has been transformed because of the beads. Some understood and joined me. We were a total of 10 and that allowed us to start work. And this is how we started doing beads. And we learned it quickly. It really gave me something very positive. And I was able to make the money I needed to fix my teeth. During the genocide, I had some problem with my teeth. So, I went to see the doctor, asking him if I could fix my teeth. As you can see, I now have good teeth.
And my husband is no longer beating me. That is something which is very positive for me. And I was able to buy a piece of land, and now I can buy food, clothes and household items. And my house is very clean. I have very beautiful chairs. This is what I did. I managed to buy those chairs myself.
There are some things that my husband did which I have forgiven, but there are some which I haven’t yet. We are still negotiating and seeing where we can agree. I’m trying to change his mind, but it is very, very hard work.
My life is very bright because I have learned a skill that will allow me to have some income and provide for all my needs. I’m sure that in the future I will have even more markets. I can even send my beads outside Rwanda to earn more money, so that I can construct my own house on the land that I bought and I can have my own home. And I hope to put my children in a good school, so that they can learn as I have been able to.
The photo accompanying this article features a Women for Women graduate, however, for privacy or security concerns, it is not an image of the woman described in the article.