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Rwanda: a story of hope

Twenty years since Rwanda’s genocide, we look back at the lasting difference Concern Worldwide’s work has made. Below, Jean Bosco recalls how he and his family fled Rwanda and became separated. But, thanks to our team, he was later reunited with his father.

Jean Bosco Ngwabije, 33, and his father, Karoli Kanyengano, who were separated and reunited after the genocide through Concern Worldwide's unaccompanied children's centre and tracing programme. The two now live next door to each other in northern Rwanda.

Jean’s story

When fighting broke out in the hills surrounding Jean Bosco’s home in Rwanda back in 1991, he and his family were forced to scatter. At just nine-years-old, Jean found himself alone, unsure if his parents were alive or dead. He made his way 150 kilometres west to Gisenye, near the border of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, an elderly woman took him in. 

In hiding

Jean was in her house when the genocide began in April 1994 and he hid there for those horrific 100 days. He recalled: “I was always really scared.” 

When the bloodshed ended, Jean returned to a country devastated by the loss of over one million people in just three months. The killing spree and mass exodus left tens of thousands of children like Jean either orphaned, or separated from their families. Concern Worldwide and other charities began to register lost or “unaccompanied” children.

Concern shelters

In August 1994, at the request of local authorities, we began running shelters for unaccompanied children across Rwanda. We had teams of “tracers” searching for children’s lost relatives. Jean lived at Concern’s centre for four months. Speaking of his time there, Jean said:

I was very well cared for. Every day I woke up, ate porridge, played, learned English, had lunch, played. I thought my parents were dead — I hadn’t seen them since 1991.

Emotional reunion

Meanwhile, our staff managed to track down Jean’s father, Karoli. After war and genocide, hope and despair, the father and son had both assumed the other was dead. Then, they were reunited in the village they had fled from years earlier. Jean recalled:

I was really happy, happy, happy. You can’t imagine what it is like to see your parents after years of thinking they had died. I couldn’t believe it. It was a miracle. After all that time thinking he was dead to find him alive.

Today, Jean is married and a father of five. He lives next door to his father on the very same plot of land where they were reunited more than 20 years ago. The two of them work side-by-side, farming and caring for their livestock. 

Past and future

Decades have passed, but Jean still keeps in touch with the elderly woman who took him in all those years ago in Gisenye. His mother is also still alive and is remarried and living in Uganda. His children went to visit her just a few weeks ago.

Jean believes it is important that his children learn about Rwanda’s troubled history, but are not defined by it, as he was. He said:

Rwanda has a bright future. You can see it moving forward…Everyone is Rwandan. Whatever ethnicity mattered before does not exist anymore.

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