Lehigh University
Lehigh University


"Free and smart," a Rwandan lives to help others

Marie Claudine Mukamabano, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, told her personal story and brought a message of peace and charity to a packed audience in Neville Hall last week.

In a presentation titled “Why Do I Exist?,” Mukamabano thanked God and her strong belief in Christianity for helping her. “I believe I survived the genocide because God was protecting me and saving my life for a reason,” she said.

During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, an estimated 800,000 people, about 20 percent of the country’s population, were killed in a period of 100 days. Most of the victims were members of the Tutsi minority and they were murdered by the Hutu majority. Ethnic tensions between the two groups had been brewing since the 1950s.

Mukamabano, a Tutsi, was the only person in her family to survive the attacks. As a result, she said she was often alone and faced significant adolescent trauma.

In her address, Mukamabano recalled how her third grade teacher had instructed students that Hutus were good people and Tutsis were bad. As a young child, she was beaten by her teachers for questioning them about the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. She discussed her confusion with her mother.

“The Tutsis were killed not because they were rich or because they [Hutus] wanted to take their things. [The Hutus] killed them because they hated them,” Mukamabano said, reflecting upon conversations with her mother.

“No one can take our freedom”

She attributed her determination to persevere and fulfill her dreams to her strong relationship with her mother.

“I am free and I am smart. I get this from my mom. I get this from the Bible because I am a Christian. No one can take our freedom because we are all free,” she said.

Mukamabano was 15 when Hutus began to kill Tutsis in Kigali, capital of Rwanda and her hometown. She said Tutsis were required to carry identification cards at all times.

The Hutus, she said, vowed to “kill everyone who has a small nose, who is tall and who is beautiful because they are a Tutsi.”

Though she struggled in her presentation to discuss the specifics of the attacks, Mukamabano said she was lucky to have survived.

“If I told you I was a genocide survivor, you wouldn’t know,” she said. “Many survivors have machete cuts and scars on their faces.”

Today, Mukamabano has a charity foundation called Kuki Ndiho: Why Do I Exist, which helps children like her who were orphaned by the genocide. In May 2010, she won an Ambassador for Peace award from the UN for helping provide Rwandan children with clothing and better education.

Mukamabano now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and said she is pleased to have fulfilled her dream of coming to America to pursue her charity efforts and work as an artist and dancer.

Alexis Alu ’12, who attended Mukamabano’s talk, said the experience enlightened her.

“I had learned about the Rwandan genocide attack prior to attending the presentation, but facts don’t have the same personal meaning that a survivor can portray,” she said.


Story by Liz Piscitelli '12

Posted on Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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