Photos courtesy of Save the Children
Rwandan children orphaned in genocide traced through forgotten Polaroids
KIGALI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When 8,000 photographs of Rwandan children orphaned during the country’s genocide were discovered last year, Save the Children set about tracing some of them to find out about their lives.
The photos, taken in the months after the 1994 genocide, had been used in an attempt to reunite the orphans with surviving family members.
Flodouard was 15 when he saw his parents killed.
“When the massacres were happening, I was there but I hid myself underneath the corpses,” he said.
He fled with his younger brother and sisters. Eventually they were picked up by rebel soldiers who took them to an orphanage in Byumba in northern Rwanda.
“I was with my three younger siblings,” he said. “The youngest one was only two years old. But because I didn’t know how to take care of a little child, she died when we arrived at Byumba.”
The children were reunited with an uncle who raised them until Floduard was old enough to support his siblings.
“I could have gone to Kigali to find a job... But I saw that I had a bigger duty to raise my younger brother and sister. I understood that if I didn’t honour this duty, I wouldn’t be honouring the memory of my parents.”
Floduard is now a father of three and a farmer.
Gloriose, Floduard’s younger sister, was five years old in 1994.
“I felt like I was going to cry when I saw a photo of myself as a little girl,” she said. “No one ever talked to me about the events at that time to help me remember what I had been through.”
“When this photo was taken I still believed that everything was going to be okay and that my parents were still alive and that they would provide me with a happy life.”
Gloriose is now at university.
“My dream is to be able to help my brother Flodouard by paying his children’s school fees. My older brother sacrificed so much for me to have an education, so I hope to be able to return the favour for his children.”
Jean-Baptiste was 14 years old during the genocide. When the massacres were happening, he hid in sugar cane fields with his older brother.
“We hid there for days without eating but I never even felt hungry,” he said. “The only thing I thought was that I had to avoid being discovered. I knew if we were found that we would be killed.”
This Polaroid was used to trace his uncle who raised him, together with several other orphans.
“Being at the orphanage was like being on my own. I felt like I was uprooted – without a family, without a culture, without anything. It was as if life had stopped and I was all alone in the world,” he said.
“But when we were reunited with our uncle, I realised that I did have a family - that I still had relatives who had survived, and that life would continue.”
He is now a father of four and works as a security guard.
Evans, Jean-Baptiste’s younger brother, was eight years old in 1994.
“When I look at this picture of myself from this time, I see a child who was suffering a lot,” he said. “After this photo was taken, I suffered even more when I realised that my parents were gone. Little by little, my wounds healed, but my suffering is still with me.”
Today he works in a butcher shop.
“Seeing this photo reminds me of how far I have come,” he said. “It makes me think about the path I’ve taken to get where I am today. There was a time in my life where I didn’t know if I would live one day to the next, where I felt like I wasn’t going to survive - but here I am.”
Save the Children aims to have the archive stored digitally so that Rwandans can access it.
“For most of these people, this is literally the only documentation of their childhood that exists. They have never seen photographs of themselves as children,” Colin Crowley, a photographer and film maker with Save the Children, said.
“This is a part of the country’s history that they deserve to have.”
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