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Orphanage after orphanage after orphanage

Mukansanga's life was shattered well before the 1994 genocide began. The atrocities that took place during and after those three terrible months complicated further her already dire situation.

An only child, Mukansanga's parents died when she was just six, and she moved in with her grandmother. Although well meaning, her grandmother, who was very old and scarcely able to care for herself, could not attend to the little girl's basic needs. Within months, Mukansanga was malnourished, sick and slowly dying.

Several of her grandmother's friendly neighbors recognized this and facilitated Mukansanga's transfer to an orphanage. Strangely enough, the orphanage was within walking distance from where she was living in Gitarama, fifty kilometers southwest of Kigali. It might as well have been on another planet.

"Every day of my one year stay I was scared, lonely, cold, hungry, confused, dirty and sad," she states without emotion. "There were many, many children. Not one of their names or faces do I remember."

Early one morning, during the first days of the genocide, Interahamwe attacked the orphanage. Most of the children, still dressed in their nightclothes, were killed before they had a chance to crawl out of bed. Having regained some of her strength, Mukansanga out ran the panga armed murders and escaped into the bush. Months later she emerged and was sent to another orphanage.

In 1997, a tracing and reunification programme, administered by the International Red Cross, located an uncle Mukansanga did not know she had. The prospect of finally putting the orphanage behind her caused her to smile. It was her first smile since the death of her parents.

"I was so happy," Mukansanga recalls. "The Red Cross told me they found a married uncle of mine, with a child my age, willing to care for me. I was so happy." The happiness soon turned to fright.

The family gladly welcomed Mukansanga into their Kigali home. They even promised, as soon as the next term began, to enroll her in school. The housework she was asked to complete in the meantime, was the least she could do. "I worked so hard," Mukansanga acknowledges. "As the start of the new school term approached, I asked if I was to receive a uniform. That was the first time she hit me." It was not the last.

School started without Mukansanga. Restricted to her uncle's house and responsible for a long list of daily chores were not her main concerns. The beatings she received, complements of both her uncle and his wife, for dropping a dish, using too much sugar or miss-placing a sock, were her bigger worry. The unhealthy environment held her in a constant state of fear.

Concerned neighbors stood up for Mukansanga and reported the abusive family to the Ministry of Social Affairs. "I knew I was headed back to an orphanage," she shares. "It saddened me, but physically and mentally I could no longer stand being treated like an animal."

Calcutta Orphanage, in the center of Kigali Ville, is where Mukansanga now resides. The caring nuns whom operate the center have enrolled her in St. Famille Primary School. She has several new friends and is in the top 20 percentile in her primary-five class.

"Of all the orphanages I've experienced, Calcutta is not bad," Mukansanga admits. "The food is good, my bed is comfortable and the nuns are very, very nice. They gave me a brand new uniform."