Have you ever been discriminated for who you are, how you were born and how you look?
The feeling of being in this position is one that social scientists agree that in most cases, it leads to living inside oneself (isolation), self-denial and to a large extent depression and trauma.
One Mitchiko Honda, who has walked and written a book “A butterfly with brown spots” on that journey of being Rwandan lady, born of a Japanese father, lived in Tanzania, Japan and United States of America; this week returned home (Rwanda) to use her life story of social discrimination to inspire more Rwandans to deal with the same problems.
Honda says that on her home return to Rwanda, she had to officially receive her Rwandan name “Mugabekazi” after taking a DNA test that proved that she was born of a Rwandan mother and has relatives back home.
Her mission in Rwanda, Mugabekazi says is to help other Rwandans who after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, continue to face similar cases of trauma and depression- which have increased in Rwanda over the last 27 years0.
“My main reason to come out is to address the mental health caused by us human beings, I want to be able to help people who are holding things in, because I held in a lot before writing this book,” Mugabekazi said.
A study conducted by the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) in 2018 shows that least 3% of Rwandans suffer from one of the cases of mental health, with depression and trauma among the leading cases in Rwanda.
The study shows that one out of every 10 Rwandans suffers from depression and when it comes to genocide survivors at least four out of every 10 Rwandans suffer from trauma largely coming from the effects of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
According to the department, mental health is a burden in Rwandan society.
For instance, one in ten children have depression, one in five youths has a mental health problem and women are more affected than men.
A living example though not directly related to genocide is Sandra Nadege Uwayezu born with yellow hair and suffered a childhood of discrimination leading to self-isolation and denial.
Uwayezu and Mugabekazi share something in common in their stories. For Uwayezu her depression led to focusing on reading, and excelling in school and hide behind poetry to express herself (masked face) but also denying her name Uwayezu
“I am so glad that I have met someone older who has the same story as mine. At first I thought I was the only person with this kind of story in Rwanda but it makes me realise that it is not alien or distinct,” Uwayezu said.
Uwayezu, set to launch her book (Light in the Dark) this month, is one of the many Rwandan women whom Mugabekazi has met since her return to Rwanda who have been asking many questions on how they too can come out and tell their stories so as to heal.
“I am planning to organise a major conference in Kigali where we will listen and discuss possible ways to other people with the same struggles. We will set up counseling services and encourage book authoring,” Mugabekazi said during a book review in Kigali this weekend.
Book publishing houses like Ubuntu Publishers have also committed to helping publish such women and persons who have similar stories but have not been able to write or publish their stories yet.
“We are already helping many young women to publish books through mentoring and guidance activities. We are going to work with Mugabekazi and other women to have their books published so as to support this initiative,” said Mutesi Gasana, the CEO of Ubuntu Publishers.
Mugabekazi initiative will add to existing student-led initiatives like “Hear2Share” which brings together teenagers to share their mental health issues regardless of their experience, age and social status and get free assistance.
“This initiative has directly helped about 100 youths and many more that come to us seeking support on how to help others,” says Bazilia Maeva Rusamaza, who also suffered from depression in 2017 and thought she was suffering from a strange disease until she broke the silence in 2020.