Rwanda: former refugee shares her story
27 September 2010

Vestine Musabyemariya
In 1996 we came back to Rwanda. I remember the deep feeling of fear when I arrived to our land. I could not avoid thinking that the war could blow up again.

I was born in 1979 in the district of Kayonza in Kabare II, a sector of Rwanda’s Eastern Province. In 1994 I fled my country due to the war. After moving to Akagera, I crossed to Tanzania with my parents, one brother and two sisters. We left behind two other brothers: one in Kigali, the other in Cyangugu. They both had to flee to Congo but happily in 1995 they could join us in the refugee camp of Cyabarisa II.

When we arrived to the camp in September 1994, I was 15 years old. I remember how the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) tried to help us. They gave us some useful materials. There was a hard moment. When you are outside your country because of war you cannot feel happy. In Tanzania people did not treat us kindly. We could not look for a job or study in their schools. We were not accepted.

At the beginning of 1995 the camp was so crowded that UNHCR divided it. In that moment JRS started working in. JRS provided us education. We started learning English and Swahili – at that time we didn't learn English in Rwanda. JRS gave us notebooks, T-shirts and school materials. I also remember a big library. It encouraged us to study and my friend Clementine worked there for some time. We organized matches and we played volleyball.

I remember a sister, Jurita from India, who tried to comfort us. She taught us anatomy and how to cultivate and grow vegetables. I also gave a hand to another sister, Purification Maria from Spain, assisting orphans and other refugees in different domain and helping her with translation.

We spent two years in the camp. When UNHCR and the leaders of Rwanda began to say we had to return, we did not believe them and we thought they were lying. We could not go back, the war was there! I felt no good feelings towards my country and I felt no peace, only tears and suffering. And I didn’t want to return.

Finally, in 1996 we came back to Rwanda. I remember the deep feeling of fear when I arrived to our land. I could not avoid thinking that the war could blow up again. In fact, I was convinced I could not finish my studies before the war broke again. I was really traumatized by the war, so that I could not think about peace which seemed impossible to me. But after a short time things changed so that we lived in peace with those Rwandans who came back at the moment we fled. Now we live together and the relationship is good.

I lived another hard moment when I realized about the ones who had not survived. I lost my uncle and his wife, their two children and other relatives. However, we had survived. I felt God protected us.

In 1997 I started to study in Rwanda and I finished my studies in 2003. In 2004 I got married and a year after we had twins. Nowadays, my husband works in Gisovu Tea Factory in Kibuye and I go on studying Social Work in Byumba where I work with JRS as a teacher in Gihembe Secondary School, a school in the refugee camp.

In my work with refugee people I try to communicate that things can change in a way they cannot imagine. Refugee people often think: "Peace is just impossible", but they have to know that to stay in the camp is not their destiny. Now I know you have to trust in your future. When I look at them I see what it happened to me. But now I know that everything is possible and I feel proud I can work with them. I wish for them to be back in peace. Everything comes from peace. You cannot live without it. 

I've put down in words my feeling of thankfulness to JRS:

I would like to say many thanks to you. You mean so much to me. You have helped me when I was outside my country, when I was called "a refugee". You have taught me English and Swahili. You built my future, I fetched from you different skills and because of that I'm well in my country with my family remembering also what you have done to me.

What I can tell you also is this:

God bless you for everything you do so as to help refugees in their difficult life and giving them a hope of their future. God bless all members of JRS who leave their families and come to work with refugees in their painful conditions. Lastly, God bless those who created JRS because they have done a great job from God and I believe that God will pay you for everything you do to help refugees (Mt 5-7).

I have discovered that everything is possible. You do not have to worry and feeling rejected because one day it may be changed in short or long time. When I was outside my country, I thought that I would never return because I was thinking that there is no peace, no happiness, only pain and tears. But when now I have returned and everything has changed and I feel good.

I have my own family too, a husband and two sons (Jessy and Jerry). They are four years old and they are studying in nursery school. I’m a student in Lic 1 Social Work at the  Institut Polytechnique de Byumba. I have hope of my future although there is nothing perfect in this world but compared to my past now I am well, and I know God has a good plan for me and I believe that.

Vestine Musabyemariya 

JRS Teacher in Secondary School at Gihembe Refugee Camp, Byumba, Rwanda