Eric is seemingly a normal guy leading a normal life. With support from our Rwanda Multi Learning Centre (RMLC), he has recently graduated from university and works as an accountant and English teacher. But his background belies this straightforward narrative: when he was 10, the Rwandan genocide broke out, forcing Eric and his family to flee from their home. Eric was kind enough to share his story with us, in the hope that it will inspire others to cope with and overcome their past.
In April 1994, when the genocide began, Eric and his family fled Kigali for rural Rwanda, then for the refugee camps in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It took over two months to reach the Rwanda-DRC border because they had to stop constantly, either to look for food or to hide from the genocidaires. As the family crossed the border, soldiers shot at them and they all ran in separate directions. Eric spent the next three years trying to survive on his own in DRC, not sure whether his family was dead or alive.
During his first three months in the jungle, Eric struggled to stay alive. He fetched water for other refugees in exchange for small bits of food and slept outside. Because there was no access to medical supplies and clean water, diseases such as cholera and dysentery were rampant.
Hearing that there was more food and water in the nearby town of Ructhuro, Eric journeyed there to beg for food. He was soon discovered by a kind Congolese woman who took him in and treated him as her own son, despite having five children of her own to support. Eric had to live with them in secret as Rwandan refugees were meant to live only in refugee camps. He spent a year and a half with his ‘new’ family, but often felt sad and alone: he had no idea if he would ever see his family again. In fact, he was sure that they had all been killed.
After a year and a half, Eric was discovered and had to leave his Congolese family to live in a refugee camp. In this camp he was miraculously reunited with his aunt, who had also fled Rwanda during the genocide. From her, he learned that he was wrong. His family was alive and back in Rwanda! However, the war in the DRC soon forced him into hiding yet again, and he was separated from his aunt. He returned to the jungle, eating leaves to survive. He wandered alone for a month, emerging at a camp at the Congo-Rwanda border. There, he was eventually reunited with his family after 3 years of separation.
“My parents and siblings could not believe their eyes to see me alive,” Eric recalls. “Only tears could tell.”
Eric and his family returned to Rwanda, which had been devastated by the genocide and ensuing violence. Eric now faced the difficult task of piecing his life back together.
He was able to catch up with his schoolwork and complete secondary school, but when he started looking for a job, he found nothing. Like many young people around the world, Eric found that the recession had made employment opportunities scarce and highly competitive. But his family was poor and he needed to earn money to support them. He knew that further education would improve his chances of getting a good job, but he never thought he would be able to afford to study.
Then he found out about our project: the RMLC offers free English, business and computer classes to orphans of the Rwandan genocide and others who are too poor to attend school. No other local organisation provides this training for free. RMLC takes in 80 to 100 students every year.
Eric enrolled in the Intermediate level and took classes in all three subjects. Moses, director of the RMLC, soon noticed Eric’s work ethic and intelligence. When Inspire!Africa, another one of Network for Africa’s partners, offered to sponsor a few students through university, Eric was one of those chosen. “We could not imagine what was happening at that time,” Eric says of the students’ reactions to the sponsorship news. “We were overjoyed.”
Eric enrolled in a three-year course in business administration and marketing at Kigali University. In his spare time, he taught English to other students at the RMLC. Now he has graduated and is a full-time English teacher and accountant at the RMLC.
“I would like to do things for helping people,” Eric said. “Even as a student at the Learning Centre I would write about my dreams for wanting to help.”
We want to offer our thanks to Eric for sharing his story, despite the difficulty and pain of reliving these events. He is an inspiration to all of us at Network for Africa.