Maura Derrane in Rwanda: Irish sporting royalty helping light break through
RWANDA can sure stir emotion.
Yesterday I really caught the sense of optimism of Innocent Segawama; the underdog who turned the tables. The epitome of the remarkable Rwandan story of hope. Today, admittedly, it was to the bone, cutting very deep and sharp.
It was time to hear the harrowing story face to face of a Rwandan genocide widow, Epiphanie Kayirangwa from the village of Ntunga, 50 miles from the capital city Kigali.
Just over 23 years ago, this young mother lived with her husband and children. Desperately poor but a family unit nonetheless.
The Genocide sliced her into shreds, like it did Rwanda.
Three of her children and her husband among the 1million or so victims of this 100 day slaughter.
We dared not ask who the killers were but the reality of the Rwandan genocide is that most people knew their killers.
A saying popularised after the genocide sums up the aftermath for Epiphanie and hundreds of thousands of others: ‘condemned to live’.
How she did is beyond belief.
As a mother myself, the thought of losing your young child is unimaginable. Three, and your husband, goes beyond where the imagination can take you.
If that wasn’t enough for Epiphanie, she became HIV positive.
We’re here with Bóthar and they are concentrating their work in the east of the country on genocide widows. Elsewhere in Rwanda, it covers all demographics.
Estimates tell us that of the 1million slaughtered not far off half may have been women.
But it didn’t end there. Up to half a million women are thought to have been raped during the purge. The evil deepened through HIV carrying rapists being set loose in a deliberate tactic to infect the rival ethnicity for decades ahead, prolonging the extermination.
In some cases they were left roadside and repeatedly raped.
There was stunned silence as we heard Epiphanie’s harrowing story through an interpreter.
Compassionately, the interpreter held Epiphanie’s hand. There was real empathy. Real support. It is a Rwandan tradition for the hand of a woman to be taken in company. But this time, the hand-holder was one of our own.
When you are dealing on a day to day basis with this level of emotion, empathy is required. So is strength. Toughness. Even courage.
The hand-holder has that in abundance. She’s Aideen O’Leary, a member of Cork sporting royalty. Daughter of hurling legend Seanie, sister of recently retired rugby star Tomás. DNA that gives her the much needed steel for the job.
As she filters Epiphanie’s story for us, you admired not just the compassion but the fact that she represents our country, on all our behalf, in Rwanda.
She’s here on the ground working with many, many like Epiphanie.
Helping to bring hope to the most desolate of lives.
Epiphanie doesn’t say a lot and that’s completely understandable given their ordeal. She speaks in very hushed tones.
But you do see the trust in her eyes when she meets the Bóthar representatives like Aideen.
And it’s heartening. Heartening because it’s one of our own, 10,000 miles from Glounthane in Cork.
Heartening also because you trust as you see her at work. And heartening also when you see the difference that we can make with simple donations that add up to more than we can imagine.
Epiphanie’s hardship has undoubtedly been softened by the gift of her Irish cow three years ago.
She now has five bovines. Yes FIVE. And a sixth on the way. All thanks to Bóthar going back each year with Irish AI straws to put cows back in calf with our own bloodlines. She’s going to sell the three-day-old bull calf we saw today in six months or so.
She’s already had a great food source on the table for three years. Now she’ll have a windfall by local standards from the proceeds of her young calf. It’s going to renovate her modest home next year.
I left Epiphanie’s home in the foothills of Rwanda with the handholding image embedded in my mind.
The Irish among the nations helping to lead these people some bit away from the poverty and terror they’ve been condemned to live with.
There are endless thousands like Epiphanie so the work must continue.
Rwanda sure stirs emotion. On a day when Epiphanie told us about the darkness, you also sensed that shards of light are breaking through.
Thanks to Bóthar. Thanks to Aideen. And thanks to Irish people donating money and donating cows.