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Rwandan Genocide Survivor Taking Excellence to Canadian University

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
3:31 pm

Innocent Nzayisenga 21, a Rwandan, has never seen his parents. He has heard of stories from relatives and neighbors that his parents and siblings were brutally hacked by genocide militias in Runda village of Kamonyi District, Southern Rwanda 20 years ago. 

Nzayisenga was just 6 months old then when Rwanda got engulfed by a sickening genocide where about 10,000 Tutsi were dying every day for 100 days straight. Luckily, one of his further relatives survived the ruthless killings; the grandmother.

She took Nzayisenga and raised him under miserable conditions. To some extent, food and shelter were a luxury, not a necessity. They skipped lunch for many years.

At six, Nzayisenga started school, in 2000. Not that his grandmother had saved or had a new source of income, but a scholarship from the Genocide Survivors Fund (FARG) which also caters for medication and other supplies to survivors.

Surviving another death

Nzayisenga is a double survivor. While school was going on well, things later turned into a nightmare. He got terribly sick and narrowly survived death.

But that wasn’t all; life kept showing him the ugly face. In 2009, just a week before his national exams, his grandmother had a fatal accident while on a taxi motorcycle. She was critically injured and hospitalized for weeks.  It was Nzayisenga’s time to be there for his grandmother too.

He would spend sleepless nights seated on the floor next to her sickbed as he read his notice to prepare for the next day’s examination.

In the morning, he would request nurses and strangers to look out for his grandmother has he rushed for the exam. He finished his exams successfully. When results came out, he had passed with flying colours.

But that did not take away the extreme poverty that was bitting him hard together with his grandmother. The two signed for the social benefits program meant for the poor.

Nzayisenga would later be surprised local leaders had enrolled him to the  Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, an Israel charity-run college for the Genocide against Tutsi orphans.

The village is a donation from late Ms. Anne Heyman, an Israeli philanthropist, who experienced the holocaust and felt compassion for the 1994 Genocide orphans.

More than 500 orphans have graduated in arts and sciences from the college. Nzayisenga is one of them.

Innocent Nzayisenga

Innocent Nzayisenga

The sad boy

Jean Claude Parisien, the village program coordinator who saw Nzayisenga in December 2009 when he joined, says “he was a pessimistic child.” Nzayisenga was a very angry and sad boy. That is no more. He has healed.

“They first built in me the spirit that everyone there loved me and indeed they did, “Nzayisenga says.

At Agahozo, every student is considered a child and teachers, parents, uncles and aunts. It’s a family. Students share breakfast and lunch with their teachers.

Academically, the college puts much emphasis on science and technology. There are informal workshops too, where students learn agriculture mechanization, computer literacy, painting, sculpture and or music.

Nzayisenga passed arts and Music. “Healing the World” is one of the songs he released, where he calls upon the community to take care of needy children.

He also organized a concert and collected over $700, which he donated to Somali children during the 2011 famine.

The sad moment

On July 3, 2013, at 79, Nzayisenga’s grandmother passed away. He sobbed and sobbed. He was deeply devastated. But the saddest part is that her death happened a few months after Nzayisenga was awarded the MasterCard Foundation full scholarship to study Arts and Music at McGill University in Canada. She will not be there when Nzayisenga graduates and when he receives his first pay cheque.

Meanwhile, Nzayisenga is one of other four classmates that were rewarded the same scholarship, to Arizona State University and British Columbia University in Canada.

The MasterCard Foundation is a global foundation supporting education by developing academically qualified yet economically disadvantaged young people in Africa.

Village role models

Nzayisenga and his colleagues are role models in their village.  “They have been role model for their colleagues too,” says Jean Claude Nkurikiyimfura, the village director.

The compatriot spirit exhibited by Nzayisenga and his colleagues baffled village folks.

They managed to mobilize and raise funds to help built 14 houses for widows and orphans.

Their zeal fits right in Heyman’s belief, “Children need to see far to go far.”

Now doing his first term at university, Nzayisenga knows that he carries with him a heavy load of responsibility, he has to study, get a degree and come back home and support build his village.

Who knows, he could be the next Jean Wycliff of Rwanda, forget that he has no siblings or relatives left behind.