During 100 horrifying days in 1994, approximately 800,000 Tutsi people were systematically killed in what is now known as the Rwandan Genocide. The massacre left many surviving children, such as 6-year-old Liberatha Ingabrire, as the heads of their families.
Between April and July 1994, approximately 95,000 children were orphaned, more were displaced from their families. Nearly all Rwandan children witnessed or experienced unspeakable violence, leaving none unscathed. Additionally, more than 65 percent of Rwanda’s population was plunged into poverty, and much land and livestock were destroyed.
Almost immediately following the exodus of millions of Rwandan refugees to Zaire, Food for the Hungry (FH) was on the ground beginning the work of reconnecting separated families and helping the refugees establish closely monitored foster care for orphaned children. By August 1994, more than 20 unaccompanied children’s centers were created in the Zaire city of Goma alone, caring for more than 7,000 children, with a growth rate of about 300 children per day. This program expanded throughout refugee camps in Zaire and areas of Rwanda.
Since the 1994 genocide and collapse of Rwanda’s economy and social services, the country has embarked on rebuilding itself, stabilizing the political situation and improving the quality of life for its population.
“Since our initial relief programs, we have identified education as a pillar to holistic redevelopment,” said Keith Wright, FH President. “Thus, we have positioned ourselves to support the education of children in Rwanda, so that they can grow into adults who are able to develop themselves and the nation of Rwanda.”
Since the 1994 genocide, 27,585 of the most vulnerable children were supported with school materials, a total of 145 classrooms were constructed and equipped with school desks, and 73 latrines and 23 water tanks were constructed to improve hygiene and access to water at schools.
In 1998, Liberatha and her younger sisters were integrated into FH’s child-headed household (CHH) project, which focuses on giving children who are heads of households access to nutritional and educational support for themselves and their siblings.
“When I met FH staff for the enrollment [in the CHH program], I was in a challenging life because it was me who cared for my young sisters. As they went to school, I remained at home cooking for them and doing farming activities in order to get food for the whole family,” Liberatha recalls. “With FH support, I joined a vocational training center where I learned tailoring and was given a sewing machine as a startup capital.
“Today, I am a tailor, married and the income I get from my tailoring business helps me to support my family, even paying school fees for my young sisters, one of whom is studying in a private university in Muhanga town.”
In addition to working to make education and vocational training accessible to this vulnerable generation, FH/Rwanda has collaborated with health centers and local authorities to support 25,969 families with medical insurance, constructed six health centers serving more than 100,000 patients, organized trainings on kitchen gardens for 3,689 people, supported 13,196 families with seeds and agricultural tools in order to increase their productivity, worked in tandem with governmental programs to provide hybrid cows to 418 families and small animals such as goats and sheep to more than 7,600 families as well as constructing houses for 187 vulnerable families.
“After 20 years of living alongside the Rwandan people, we are seeing a transformation from a very desperate situation to revitalized growth as a result of their incredible tenacity and determination to rebuild,” said Wright.
Timeline of Rwandan Genocide
1993 - President Habyarimana signs a treaty starting a time of peace between the two tribes of Tutsis and Hutus.
1994 April –Habyarimana and the Burundian president die in a plane crash, which starts Hutu extremists killing 800,000 Tutsis within 100 days.
1994 August – Food for the Hungry (FH) establishes ChildWINS program beginning in Goma, Zaire, to care for and track children orphaned or separated from their parents.
1994-96 – The Hutu militia take over refugee camps for Tutsis in Zaire.
1995 - Refugees leave Zaire to go back into Rwanda. FH intensifies efforts to reunite separated families and establish foster care for orphans during transition.
1995 – United Nations begins charges and sentencing for people behind the Tutsi massacre.