From horror to help: Genocide victim becomes medicine man
A Rwandan genocide victim turned to Doctors Without Borders to help those who need it most
Dominique Mukunzi was just 11 when he was forced to flee his home in Rwanda – and if his family didn’t run, and run immediately, they faced slaughter one by one.It was April 1994. Ethnic violence had just broken out in the east-central African nation. Members of the Hutu ethnic majority were largely targeting Mukunzi’s tribe, the Tutsis.
As many as 800,000 would be murdered in 100 days.“I was 11 years old when we fled,” Mukunzi recalled on the 24-year anniversary of the brutal reign of terror.
His dad, a banker, his mom, a hospital worker, his sister and two brothers literally ran for their lives.“The genocide just took place in my home country, Rwanda, and we had to escape. We walked for days, all the way across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo, until we reached the refugee camp in Bakuvu.”
It triggered a harrowing time in the life of the pre-teen – but it didn’t mean his horrors would be over.“We stayed there [in Bakuvu] for over a year. Then, in 1996, a war started in Bakuvu and we had to leave again. Once more we walked for days, all the way to Kisangani, hundreds of kilometres away. Sometimes there were no villages along the way, so we just slept in plastic sheeting on the side of the road,” Mukunzi said.
The experience fundamentally changed Mukunzi’s life – and would see him determined to help others.“In Bakuvu is where I first met Doctors Without Borders; in the refugee camps, helping people,” said Mukunzi.
But this wasn’t his only encounter with the organisation, known also by their French name Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF). While fleeing to Kisangani he again saw them in action.Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders is an independent medical humanitarian organisation working to bring emergency medical care to people caught in conflict, crises and disasters in more than 65 countries across the world, including in South Africa.“I remember being on the road to Kisangani, and there was a camp along the way. One day a small plane landed close to where we were, and it was MSF. They came to the middle of nowhere and made a small hospital which was helping refugees on the road,” he said.Seeing what the international aid organisation was doing to help him and others like him was inspiring for the young man, who was now a teenager. And when his mother, who was employed as a social worker at a hospital in Kigali before the family fled, was given a job working in the MSF facility’s nutrition centre, Mukunzi’s mind was made up about what he wanted to do with his life.“In 1997 it was finally safe enough to move home. We had to start everything over in Rwanda: home, work and school for us kids. After school I went to university to become a pharmacist. The experience of my mother influenced me to work in a similar field,” said Mukunzi.Ultimately, he would end up working in the very organisation that quite possibly saved his and his family’s lives. Mukunzi is employed as a pharmacist with MSF.
“Although there are other organisations doing humanitarian work, MSF inspires me. I remember the help MSF gave me when I was in need. I always keep that in mind, to remember to help once what helped me,” Mukunzi said.