Looking Rwandan genocide in the eye: Woman survivor transforms trauma

Shiloh Sophia McCloud – WNN Featured Commentary

Rwandan Marie Claudine Mukamabano speaks to the audience at the UNCSW58. The 58th year of the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York in March 2014. Image: Jonathan Lewis/WNN
Rwandan native and survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, Marie Claudine Mukamabano speaks to the audience about her family, life, hopes, dreams, accomplishments, inspirations and insights at the UNCSW58, the 58th year of the UN Commission on the Status of Women conference in New York, in March 2014. Image: Jonathan Lewis/WNN

(WNN) United Nations, New York, U.S., AMERICAS: As twenty years has passed since the genocide in Rwanda brought devastation to over what the United Nations estimates as 800,000 people, one woman is shining a light on the disaster. Her name is Marie Claudine Mukamabano. And she speaks of stepping over the bodies as if it was yesterday.

This horrific time in her life and country was also the catalytic moment that would shape the rest of her future, and the future of orphans in Rwanda. When I attended the 58th year of the UNCSW – United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York, there was something so incredibly compelling about Marie Claudine’s approach to sharing her message. It was different than other UN panels that often had a ‘cry-for-help’ message.

What was Marie Claudine’s message? I had to know more.

Was it her joy that drew me? Come to find out it was. I was fascinated by her capacity to speak of tragedy with such candid storytelling, and at the same time exude what seemed like overflowing joy. Marie Claudine’s panel, “Economic Empowerment for Women and Girls through social media, entrepreneurship and technology” struck me. First of all, we opened with a prayer to a ‘Creative God’ and classical musician Schubert’s song Ave Maria, with Marie Claudine giving thanks to God.

In the panel were women that Marie Claudine had studied with in the creation of her own not-for-profit called the Kuki Ndiho (Why Do I Exist?) Foundation, and organization set up to help Rwandan orphans.

I thought of the beauty of this. For the panel she brought her very own teachers to us to educate us. As she introduced each woman Marie Claudine, who most recently graduated from the International Trauma Studies Program in New York with Colombia University Professor Jack Saul, shared how women had specifically helped her along her path.

While the presence and cause of Why Do I Exist.org was the backdrop, Marie Claudine was clearly here to help orphans and raise awareness. Her approach was education that empowers. Her panel didn’t ‘just talk’ about the topics, it was a class for those present in the room including multi-media training on how we too can get the word out about our own causes.

In her presentation Marie Claudine, who now lives in New York, asked us to take responsibility and make a difference along with her, and in our own lives.

“Sometimes, we blame other people for our failures; and we sit down with our arms crossed assuming that they will do something to solve our problems,” said Marie Claudine during her presentation at the UN.

“I wanted to do something for the helpless to take responsibility, and make a difference in somebody’s life” she continued.

“Because I wanted to acknowledge how God saved my life, that’s how Why Do I Exist came to life. It helped me to fulfill my promises…” Marie Claudine added.

She told us a story about what brought her to her desire to serve. Sharing with us that during the massacre in Rwanda she had made a promise to God to serve the orphans; and she would dedicate her life to that service, including becoming a business woman.

From an early age, Marie Claudine was good at math. Her mother knew she was smart and encouraged her to be who she was from an early age. Her awareness of her own gifts of intelligence and math were a part of what she conveyed as her “call to service in that moment.” If she survived the genocide, she said, she would put her whole self to service on behalf of the orphans.

A photo of Marie Claudine's mother, before she was killed in the Rwandan genocide. Image: Marie Claudine
An edited photo of Marie Claudine’s mother, in happier times before she was killed along with other family members during the Rwandan genocide. Image: Marie Claudine Mukamabano

But not only that. Marie Claudine would also teach about forgiveness. Her mother, father, sisters and brothers were all killed in the atrocities in Rwanda. Only one brother is alive today in Rwanda.

“I found myself jumping over the bodies of the people,” she shared.

“Children were being killed from my left and right. People were being shot in front of me. I really didn’t think I’d survive. I thought I’d die like everyone else,” outlined Marie Claudine.

“Therefore, I took a vow before God,” she continued. “I said, ‘Lord if you save my life, and I survive, I will do everything in my ability to help Rwandan orphans,” she added.

It is hard to imagine how a person could have so much light and joy after having suffered so much.

Marie Claudine believes in the power of connecting those who are not connected, which is also why she has created her very first book, an audiobook called The Power of Social Media. When I ask her about this, she tells me a story. She met a woman on Facebook who works with trauma, and this woman, Suzanne Feldman-Levy agreed to come to Rwanda to teach to orphans how to lead others in the healing of trauma. The marvel of meeting a woman online who would agree to come to Rwanda is part of what motivates Marie Claudine – she can see that healing is happening. This is the source of her joy – that she gets to be a part of the healing.

“Why Do I Exist? Is a question I ask myself as a genocide survivor. I believe that my existence is to praise God and help others. I believe my existence is to change somebody’s life. I believe it’s my duty to promote peace, and to prevent evil acts by promoting the acts of kindness, and the benefits of performing God’s holiness,” outlined Marie Claudine in her presentation.

I haven’t told her this yet, but I can see Marie Claudine as a future leader at the United Nations. Since we are now friends, the next time we have tea I plan to share my vision with her.

It is this kind of human being, the one who not only survives but thrives, who will lead us into the future.

Recently in Lagos, Nigeria Marie Claudine was given recognition as an “Impact Maker in Development on the African Continent” by writer and lead editor Mr. Adebivi Olusuolape of the Development Diaries, a Pan-African publication covering development news in the region.

On our second meeting, I tied a red thread on her wrist telling her about the connection the red thread would give her with other woman around the world. Sharing I told her about the Chinese legend that says that those who are supposed to meet are connected by an invisible ‘Red Thread’ since before birth. I knew she understood this. Over the next few days we worked together with a group of women in a painting class I was teaching in New York that uses art as a path of healing.

After I met her I realized as an artist, poet, dancer, mathematician and humanitarian, Marie Claudine Mukamabano provides that brave unreasonable hope that keeps us all believing in the global path of ‘Peacemaker’.


One unexpected legacy of the Rwandan Genocide has been extended work in the advancement of women’s rights in the region. When the genocide ended, many women formed associations to rebuild their communities. These associations have redefined the role of women in Rwandan society. Forty-eight percent of MPs in Rwanda are women — the highest proportion in the world. “Women are leading everything. We are capable of doing the job”, states politician Speciose. In the aftermath of the genocide, she helped found a women’s association to rebuild her village. Then they started raising funds for orphans. “After seeing how strong and brave Speciose is, she was made Mayor,” explains her friend Daphrose. “Then she was elected for parliament.” Women like Speciose are overturning traditional stereotypes. “We used to think the role of women was to cook food but now, women are being recognized.” This important film documentary, “Rwanda: After the Genocide,” produced in 2007 is one of many other important documentaries that are being brought to the larger public through distribution by Journeyman Pictures. To buy a download of this film link HERE


For more information on this topic:

Rwanda: Coping With Children Born of Rape,” GSPIA, University of Pittsburgh, Marie Consolée Mukangendo, May 2012;

Kuki Ndiho Foundation: Why Do I Exist?,  Marie Claudine Muamabano, “Our History and Founder” webpage;

Security Council Resolution 1325: Civil Society Monitoring Report Rwanda,” global Network of Women Peacebuilders, October 2012;

The Role of Women in Reconstruction: Experience of Rwanda,” Jeanne Izabiliza, UNESCO, April 2010.


WNN Special Commentator Shiloh Sophia McCloud is a visionary artist and teacher who has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to art as a path of healing through the process of painting, writing and intentional creativity. Through her work McCloud has represented hundreds of women artists internationally. At the core of her work is a belief that the right to self-expression is one of the most basic of human rights. McCloud is also the author of over 5 books covering poetry, creative expression and business ‘know-how’.


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