❤️ Impore Rwanda; 26 Years Later, We Still Remember! ❤️

♥ If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again ♥ 

A memorial wreath laid on one of the graves at Kigali Genocide Memorial, Gisozi, Rwanda. Feb 2019

This specific Wednesday night, my parents and 4 of my siblings, we all went to bed, completely unsure of what even the next day would look like; you see, earlier that evening around dinner time, we suddenly heard loud explosions nearby, and saw flames in the sky. We then rushed to listen to our home radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the president of Rwanda had just been shot down as it landed at Kigali International Airport; the announcement added that the president died, along the president of Burundi and everyone onboard.

That night, all of us kids slept together in the same bedroom with our parents; we were too terrified to sleep anywhere else. 

Reflecting on Memories of my Family and Childhood in what used to be our home. Feb 2019

The next day brought a usual warm and sunny morning, that’d have otherwise been a great opportunity to be outdoors. Unfortunately, nothing could ever have prepared my family for what was about to unfold before our eyes. My little sister Marie Claudine (I had 5 siblings) had been visiting her godmother, Theresa, who lived about 15 minutes away, for Spring/Easter Break. All of the sudden, Theresa, showed up at our house unannounced. She wasn’t alone, but not with my sister either; instead, behind her were men carrying a dead body –my little sister’s, we found out! Theresa informed us that Hutu militiamen attacked her home that very morning, killed her 2 kids and my sister, and looted her house. Theresa had been in hiding at the time of the attack.

With our world crumbling down piece by piece, it was as if a double edged sword has cut deep, deep, through our hearts. Unbeknownst to us then, this very Thursday morning, April 7th, 1994 would mark the beginning of the genocide, an ethnic cleansing in Rwanda. Theresa’s kids and my little sister were the first victims in our area. The next 100 days would cost 1 million lives of men, women, children, young, old, strong, beautiful. Their crime? The way they were born, something they did not get an opportunity to bargain with their Creator during their births!

That staggering number would include my parents, and 2 of my siblings, neighbors, classmates, friends, amazing people who had an entire future ahead of them!

Beautiful Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. Feb 2019

Fast forward to 26 years later, today, our whole planet is reeling under a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, a global pandemic that had brought our normal daily routines to a near standstill, my beautiful home country Rwanda included. Countries imposed lockdown to stop imminent spread of the virus. Families are huddled in their homes, some with the possibility of dying of hunger especially people whose income was based on jobs that cannot be done remotely. The losses of lives are astonishing, and no country is immune to the impact.

Somehow, unfortunately, this danger and fear feels all too familiar to me, although not to the same extent. My eyes have seen things that no young child should ever have to endure. The people of Rwanda have been through so much already, and my heart is heavy for them, especially around this time of the year, during this unprecedented time.

So, will you allow me this opportunity to pour my heart out for my people in the Land of a Thousand Hills? Will you indulge me for a moment, while I weep, grieve, remember, honor and commemorate innocent lives that we lost, the shameful death our loved ones died in 1994? Spare me a moment of silence, to reflect, to pray, to cherish memories of the people who meant the world to me, whose lives were cut short!

Allow me to ponder on the dates that are forever a reminder of the horror that descended on Rwanda, scars that no lifetime can ever heal: Thursday April 7th, my little sister Marie Claudine (11) was killed. Sunday April 17th, my Dad (43) was killed. On Sunday April 24th, my older brother Jean Felix (15) and my Mom (40) were killed together.

Here is tribute I wrote for them on the 20th Anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder!

The Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for 250,000+ victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Feb 2019

Today Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

  • We remember, commemorate & honor all those Tutsi who died in shame! They didn’t choose to be born the way they were born. May they rest in Eternal Peace with you Jesus, until we will see them again, in a life that knows no sorrow or pain! 
  • God, we pray for Your comfort and love wrapped around every Rwandan genocide survivor. Please Lord, give each and every one hope, endurance, strength, prosperity, courage, a voice, healing, ability to forgive. You alone can heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
  • We remember & pray for those left vulnerable—widows, orphans, women who were raped and left with pregnancies and diseases, and those inflicted with physical scars that bring emotional trauma and recurring nightmares.
  • We remember those who were not a target but chose to hide Tutsi, risking their lives. They are heroes of our survival stories!
  • We pray for the leaders of Rwanda, the president, and everyone around him: for wisdom to lead the country with justice and fairness, and continue to move Rwanda forward.
  • We pray for peace over Rwanda; and for genocide perpetrators that themselves will receive forgiveness, come to know the Lord, and repent. That we will leave vengeance to God, as it is written that vengeance belongs to Him, He will repay.
  • We thank you Jesus for the unity, renewal, and healing, progress, prosperity, that has been bestowed upon Rwanda and her people. Amen!

My favorite song, for you Rwanda 🇷🇼: Muririmbire Uwiteka (Sing to the Lord)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelations 21:4 (NKJV)

Looking Back at 2019: I am Beyond Humbled!

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. ~ Psalm 13:6 (NKJV)

My People, my Family, my Treasure, my Blessings, my Gifts from heaven!

Another year in the books! 2010’s coming to an end, and we are about to start a new decade. As we wrap up 2019, I want to take this moment and reflect on the past 12 months; I am deeply humbled and filled with gratitude to Jesus, my Lord & King, to my amazing family, incredible friends, and community around the world. 2019 may have been my busiest year to-date, but it has also been the best year of my life! The Lord Has truly been great to me!

So here is to summarize my 2019:

  • I got married 

I tied the knot with the man of my dreams! I ask him often what took him so long 😀 He is by no means perfect, and I am not either. But he is absolutely perfect for me! Almost a year later, I love him even more, if possible. I shared more details about our big day in this post: ❤️On This Day, I married my Best Friend❤️

Our First Dance

  • I made it to the Asian continent, for the first time!

Xin chào (hello in Vietnamese)! After a long deliberation and having way too many options (which doesn’t always help), we finally ditched the idea of a honeymoon in Hawaii at sunset for a completely different, new place. In my defense, it’s very hard to find a location that my husband has not been to. His professional career has taken him around the world, to countries and places that will take me a lifetime to catch up to. Luckily, Vietnam happened to be one of those places he had yet to visit. So, it was settled!

At the Ho Quoc Temple, Phu Quoc, Vietnam overlooking the Gulf of Thailand

As an added bonus to our choices, my husband found a JW Marriott resort, which made our decision much easier since I have been part of their Marriott Bonvoy top tier for the past 2 years I have been staying with them. The Vietnam’s island of Phú Quốc was decided on and we booked our travels without a hitch. And it turned out to be one of the best travel experiences of our lives.

JW Marriott Resort entrance in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Phú Quốc is an Island located south of Cambodia. Relatively undeveloped, and mostly part of the National Park, it’s also home to the world’s longest cable car, white sand beaches, tropical jungles and so many other hidden treasures. We loved it there and the Vietnamese people were very nice to us.

We also visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi

  • Cisco Award

In addition to being nominated as one of 10 Cisco Bridge Award Winners (2018) which I wrote in this post: A great Privilege that I got to be named one of them, I was voted as the Cisco 2019 Community Hero. I am absolutely not a hero; but it was my greatest honor to be bestowed upon this title by my Cisco global community, and our Leaders.

Accepting the Award from our CEO Chuck Robbins & EVP & Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas

Part of this award, Cisco donated cash to my nonprofit Rising Above the Storms for our work in Rwanda. Moreover, Cisco flew me and a media crew to film my childhood neighborhood in Rwanda and my nonprofit work there. They produced a short story to summarize it; click here to watch: Cisco Community Hero. The experience was incredible and surreal!

The Award

  • Moving Across Country

This is an understatement to be honest with you. I don’t know if I call it an accomplishment but it did happen! After our wedding, I relocated from one US coast to to the other, literally. Moving is never easy, but moving across country is a huge task to undertake. Luckily, my husband is a great planner, which made the process bearable for both of us.

The pod getting packed up

I chose to (and obviously had to) get rid of things that were not worth keeping, packed the rest and we loaded it up in a moving pod. My car was shipped separately of course. Thankfully, prior to the wrap up, we had already moved anything that could fit in suitcases by plane, without any additional cost, since Delta allows my husband and I 2-3 free checked bags each. It was a blessing! Our moving pod and car made it to their destination without a problem and ahead of time.

  • I finally visited Alaska

Well, in my head, Alaska sounded far away and unique. The first time I got intrigued by the beauty this place is dates back to the movie The Proposal by Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in 2009, about Sitka. I then joked to my friends that I couldn’t wait to visit the country of Alaska. Of course I knew that it was a state, but in my defense, some US states may as well be called countries since sometime laws vary from place by place as if they were independent countries.

Cruising around Juneau, Alaska

Regardless, I wanted to visit it. Luckily for us, when we visited around the 4th of July, it was the warmest summer that Juneau had seen in 112 years apparently. It was in the 80s for the whole time we were there, which was a real treat for me, a tropical weather lady. The caveat, people there don’t speak the air conditioning language. Can you blame them?

It was funny to find out that even our Four Points by Sheraton (a Marriott Hotel) or the Juneau airport didn’t have air conditioning. I mean, who needs AC when the weather rarely makes it to 73 degrees? We couldn’t sleep that well because it was too warm and the space fans didn’t do the trick, but man, did we have fun whale watching, hiking the Mendenhall Park and exploring the Glacier (Nugget) Falls!! It was an amazing experience.

Anchorage, Alaska, at 12:01am (July 7th)

We also visited Anchorage, Alaska, which was an experience of a lifetime for me to go to bed past midnight and it was still bright out. I have never seen anything like that! The sun set around 11:30pm. I couldn’t believe it. In Rwanda where I was born and raised, the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm, as long as I can remember. Rwanda is only a few degrees below the equator.

  • RAS Board of Directors 

Yes, I finally have a group of incredible & successful women who have decided to help me take RAS vision and mission to the next level. I am extremely excited, grateful to their expertise and I look forward to what 2020 has in store for us, for our kids in Rwanda and the future. Check out our team’s bio.

With some of RAS Board Members

  • Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

Yes, you read that right. This past November (2019), we introduced laptops at our Learning Center in Rwanda, to help forge our kids’ confidence, promote skills learning, while we provide them with a motivation to stay in our programs, and prevent them from going back to the streets, and prepare them for a future career in technology.

The Laptops installed in our Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

I believe that, giving RAS youth access to technology that they can’t afford in their home environment, will help them catch up with peers, enable them to engage others outside their communities, and maybe turn out to be a career path for some of them. It is so moving to see how excited they are to learn and can’t wait to see how impactful the knowledge will be to them.

The kids busy learning; Dec 11, 2019

  • I made Delta Diamond

It’s a big deal  to me 🤷‍♀️😊 I switched to Delta at the beginning of 2017, from American Airlines. Comparing with American, I personally think that Delta makes it difficult to climb up. However, I realized that Delta was my best shot to travel to Africa because of its partnership with KLM that really makes the journey bearable between the US and Africa. When you reach the diamond status, you are flying at least 10k miles a month and spending a lot of money to accumulate enough base miles (MQMs) and dollars (MQDs). So, I guess you could say the 3rd time is a charm here, 3rd year!

Delta diamond medallion requirements

  • Who’s keeping Score?

Well, I think I broke record this year; I managed to be on 3 different continents, and connected through the 4th, all in one week. How did that happen? After spending about a week and a half in Vietnam, we returned to the United States on a Monday. The very next day, Tuesday, I left for California, where I spent couple of days. Later that week, I left for Africa from San Francisco, via Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I arrived in Rwanda the same week I left Vietnam, on a Sunday. It was a crazy week.

A picture with our kids at our Center in Rwanda

I spent 10 days in Africa; toward the end of the trip, understandably, my body gave in. I went down with a cold. Flying sick is the worst. Getting back to the US, I only had 48 hours to recover from my cold before my husband and I could fly [across country] to finish packing my stuff to get our home ready for rental. The wedding, honeymoon to Asia, a trip to Africa, moving across country, to name a few, all happened between January – March this year.

As we enter 2020, I am even more hopeful and excited about the new beginnings, changes, experiences, travels, new friends.

Thank you very much for reading this. I pray for the Lord’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this holiday season, the New Year and always.

“For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116: 8-9

Rising Above the Storms: a Name and a Personal Story!

With some of our kids at the center in Rwanda. Jan 2017

Never in a million years have I ever thought that I would start a nonprofit, leave alone sharing personal, painful wounds of my past with strangers on the cyberspace, or in person for that matter. It has always been a challenge for me to comfortably talk to people I just met, and it still is the case today unfortunately. The idea of starting a nonprofit first came to mind in 2012. I felt urgency and a desire in my heart; I could sense something bigger than I had ever imagined was about to unfold. Soon, it became clear to me that this was what God Has been preparing me for all along.

Losing parents at 13, surviving a genocide with younger siblings who were all under 10, juggling life, pain, loss, poverty, betrayal, disappointment; it has been a long journey to recovery! However, from the very beginning, I perhaps understood that the idea of starting a nonprofit that is centered around my personal journey may possibly mean opening up about my past and personal experiences, something that is extremely difficult for me to do.

You see, I come from a culture that is famous for keeping things to themselves. In Rwanda, you don’t talk about your personal life to people who aren’t your close friends or family members. When you make a casual conversation with a Rwandan around their personal life, they’ll become suspicious of your motives in asking. It is still true today.

Kids in our program during the celebration of International Day of the African Child, July 2017

In fact, more than a decade here, the thought of learning about a stranger’s marital issue or not getting along with a boss during an hour plane ride is still appalling to me today. Don’t get me wrong, I really love listening to others and learning more about their personal stories. My challenge is the other way around; talking to strangers, especially in a group setting, about anything, especially sensitive topics such as 1994 in Rwanda. It doesn’t matter if those people seem harmless. So, when God laid this idea of starting a nonprofit on my heart, I felt equally scared and excited!

RAS Facilities in Rwanda

Summing up my life story and what God has done for me and my siblings, I couldn’t imagine a better name to call my nonprofit: Rising Above the Storms. I chose “Rising” instead of “Rise” as many tend to think of R, to emphasize on a continuing journey, a work in progress. The journey began when the most devastating atrocities of the 20th century hit my beautiful home country on April 6, 1994. By the end of 90 days, my parents and 2 of my siblings have been killed. You can read more on my recollection of their final moments that I wrote on the 20th anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later.

I like how some people think S means Stars. I will take it 🙂

It’s been a wild ride since the official launch of RAS, in 2014. Combining the expectations of what it takes to get a startup off the ground with my busy engineering career has been close to impossibility to say the least. I now understand why every person I have met who is an executive director of a nonprofit is their full time job. It’s impossible to do anything else.

Earlier this year, we launched our first partnership with a local organization in Rwanda to start a mobile based classroom for street children. We currently have 17 kids in our program, 11 of them back in school. It’s been an incredible journey to get to know these kids, through our team on the ground. The kids who visit the center on weekly basis receive care through therapy sessions after a meal. This allows them to express their challenges and struggles as we walk with them through life.

Group Photo after Launching Treasured Learning Center

There are multiple ways you can become part of this amazing experience: you can sponsor a child for $50 a month. This amount covers their school material, tuition, school uniform, therapy sessions, meals and clean cloths they receive when they come to the center on a weekly basis. Click here to pick one of the 9 children we have remaining that need sponsorship on our website: Sponsor a Child. Or you can simply donate on our website: Donate to Rising Above the Storms.

Rising Above the Storms is my personal story, my non profit and my life’s calling and God’s mission for my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is without a doubt what I am meant to do for the rest of my life. Caring and loving vulnerable children & youth is something that moves me to tears and keeps me up at night. I weep just looking at hungry, abandoned children that I don’t even know; it could be on TV or newspaper. I could have easily become one of those children; it’s not because of anything I did to be very fortunate.

As the Bible quotes in Isaiah 61, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to be their voice!

Will you join me? Add your name here!

God bless you

Reblog: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: 23 years later!

Resharing a blogpost I wrote 3 years ago:

Source: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

Lighting candles in memory of our Loved Ones who were taken away from us so soon!

♫ Hear me God, God of Rwanda ♫: By A Grieving Rwandan Singer!

Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills

When I was growing up, just like most of Rwandans then, for some reasons, I thought that Rwanda was the biggest country ever. It goes way back in history.  “Rwanda” comes from “Kwanda“, which means “getting larger or expanding“. After I moved to the United States, I of course abandoned the idea. Rwanda is nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts.

Also, I am still convinced that everyone in Rwanda believed in God when I was growing up. Many songs and expressions in Kinyarwanda simply reflected “the God of Rwanda” that spent the day in other countries but definitely came home to Rwanda every night. In fact, most last names in Rwanda carried “God” or “Imana” in it. For instance, my maiden name Imaniraguha, means, “God gives you”, and many many others.

Unfortunately, Rwandan artists also later wrote that God didn’t come to Rwanda on April 7th, 1994. That Thursday morning (ironically this year 2016 exactly matches days of 1994) marked the beginning of an ethnic cleansing, the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi group (15% of the population of about 7 millions then).

Personally, as I have written in many posts, although the genocide lasted about 100 days, April is a unique month in mine and my 3 surviving siblings’ lives. By Sunday April 24th, 1994, I had already lost my parents and two of my siblings. One mourning song especially conveys the degree of my grief, my prayer, my hope. It’s called “Hear Me God, please Hear Me, God of Rwanda“. Click here to take a listen: Nyumva Mana (Hear me God) by Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa.

Unfortunately it’s in Kinyarwanda; however, below is my attempt to transcript the lyrics in English. Although the song is possibly nearly 2 decades old, it has been my favorite for so many reasons!

♪♫Hear me God, Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country.

Hear me God (x2)!

Although many years come to pass, my heart is still stricken with grief! I look everywhere and my sight has no end. And when I call out for someone, echoes answer me, instead!

Hear me God (x2)!

My father! I didn’t bury him! My Mother! I didn’t see her on a deathbed! Many relatives, children and true friends, were killed without a crime and I was left all alone!

Hear me God!

One who could be on my side was taken away in this tsunami, too. They robbed me of love and wrapped me in sorrow. I escaped without hope as the enemy watched!

Hear me God!

Your chosen ones were murdered because of how you created them. Please seat them near you in Your Palace of Life, relieve them of pain and rest them in peace!

Hear me God!

Lord of Mercy, hear me I am begging You. Please come quickly, win over the enemy and protect me with Your Shield. Bless Rwanda with great things and get rid of all bitterness among us!

Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.

Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country!

Hear me God (x4). Please Hear me, God of Rwanda ♪♫

Descent into the Kigali International Airport, Kanombe

Aerial View of Kanombe, near the International Airport in Kigali

“But those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

In Loving Memory: 22 Years Later ♥♥♥♥

My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

♥If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again.♥

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Matthew 5: 4

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.23.04 PM

My Family. Before April 1994

Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

My Family, after April 1994: Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: Rwanda, APRIL 1994

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Mathew 5: 4

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4

It’s almost February and April is around the corner. Oh how I anxiously wait for this month all year around! Why is April a big deal? Because it will be the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in which I lost my beloved parents and 2 of my siblings. Unfortunately, although a lot has happened since then, it  still feels like it was yesterday to me!

Though I still grieve for them with a deep sorrow and always will, however, I have encountered someone who has deeply touched my shattered heart with a mighty healing power and gave me a reason to rejoice forever: my Lord and King Jesus! He has turned my mourning into dancing! Therefore, I grieve with hope!

That’s my prayer for anyone who has lost someone close, especially tragically. I know how you feel!

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” ~ Romans 12:15

My Dearly Beloved Parents

My Dearly Beloved Parents

Today, I am again reminded that life is extremely short and that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed! I knew that already, but my weary heart needs a constant reminder. This evening, I learned of a death of someone so young and full of life. This young man was a newlywed to an extremely beautiful young woman who is a close friend to my family in Rwanda.

He died of a motorcycle accident, the most popular means of public transportation in Rwanda, besides buses. Quite frankly, a cruel fact may be that those commercial motorcycles probably claim more lives than any other cause of death in Rwanda.

I weep so deep with this very young widow. My heart breaks for her, her family and many whose loved ones have been taken away so suddenly. This life begs more questions than answers unfortunately. You may have many examples. My prayer is that the whole world will come to know how much God loves us despite our circumstances. That’s very important.

You see, the Bible tells me that one day, God will make everything new, and wipe away all our tears. Our mourning will be no more. This gives me hope! And that we will see again all those who died in the Lord, in the new life that knows no sorrow.

There, hatred, discrimination, accidents, killings, injustice, tragedies, natural disasters, diseases, illness, hunger, wars, all will lose battle. Love & peace will be victorious and eternal life will be our song forever!

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,“Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” ~ Revelations 14:13

Father God, I pray that You’ll comfort all those who are grieving & hurting. You alone are their Strength, Shield and Salvation. You are capable of consoling them even when the outpouring sympathy & support is not enough. Will You send them Peace, surround them with Your unfailing Love and Kindness! Will You be their only Joy, Hope and Refuge! Now and always!

In Jesus name! Amen!

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4