‘My mother tied our sleeves together, so that we
wouldn’t lose each other.’

The short childhood

Vanessa Ntakirutimana was only five years old in 1994 when, the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda began. Within just a few month, more than one million people were killed. Like hundreds of thousands of people, Vanessa and her siblings fled to escape the brutal violence.

‘My mother tied our sleeves together, so that we
wouldn’t lose each other.’

Vanessa has not seen her parents since. She does not even know if they are still alive. She was one of the children who were displaced throughout the East African country without a mother or a father to look after her. In 1995, she and her siblings registered for a Save the Children family reunification programme, which traces the relatives of children separated from their families by the violence. The workers registered them and took some Polaroid photos. The photos were stapled to one of thousands of pages on file that Save the Children still keeps in Kigali today.

Sadly, Vanessa’s parents were not found.

Now Vanessa is 29 years old and has four children of her own. Her oldest daughter, Divine, nine, goes to school. She is older now than her mother was at the beginning of the genocide. No one can say exactly, because Vanessa doesn’t know her exact date of birth and she neither read nor write. But Vanessa does know one thing: when others went to school here, she sold sugar cane along the roadside so that she could buy something to wear.

She wants a better life for her children. ‘Her father is doing everything to enable her to go to school. And I prepare my daughter’s porridge in the morning before she goes to school. I put her clothes in order. I show her my love. I had none of this when I was nine. I hope my children will have a better life than I have had.’


This text is an excerpt from the book “I’M ALIVE”
by Martina Dase and Dominic Nahr.

All information about the book and where to order can be found here.

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