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Concern Youth Ambassador, Aline Joyce Berabose and her mother, Marie Ange BeraboseConcern Youth Ambassador, Aline Joyce Berabose and her mother, Marie Ange BeraboseConcern Youth Ambassador, Aline Joyce Berabose and her mother, Marie Ange Berabose

“I’m proud to be part of the story”: A lifetime of progress for the post-genocide generation of Rwanda

“I’m proud to be part of the story”: A lifetime of progress for the post-genocide generation of Rwanda
Story5 April 2024Emma Kelly

Thirty years on from the genocide in Rwanda, one woman with a special link to Concern shares how the nation has made “impossible” progress.

When Aline Joyce Berabose, known as Bose, was born in 1996, Rwanda was reeling from the horrors of two years earlier, when in less than 100 days, over 800,000 Tutsi, and Hutu moderates, were murdered, a million people were internally displaced, two million fled to neighbouring countries, and 95,000 children were left orphaned. As part of the post-genocide generation, Bose didn’t have a lot of clarity on what had happened in her early years. “There had been very little conversation,” she said. “I have now realised that it's very common for the post-genocide generation that there’s a lot of unanswered questions. There was also this kind of stigma and taboo to ask too many questions, because you probably would not get the answer that you wanted.”

Bose moved a lot as a child - living in a village in Rwanda with her grandparents while her mother Marie-Ange went back to school, then living with aunties, then moving to Kigali with her mother - and attended six different schools. She was very close to her mum, saying they were more like sisters; Bose and Marie-Ange even had lunch together at school as Bose’s primary school was on the same compound as her mum’s university.

With help from her parents and sisters, Marie-Ange raised Bose as a single mother, and Bose never knew who her father was when she grew up. However, it was a simple form when Bose was 15 years old that shone a new light on Bose’s entire life, and the courageous journey her mother took to raise her child. 

Aline Joyce Berabose as a baby with her mother Marie-Ange Beriman
Aline Joyce Berabose as a baby with her mother Marie-Ange Beriman. Photo: Concern Worldwide

“I couldn't fill out the forms for my national exams,” Bose explained. “It was not allowed to not fill your parents’ names on the forms when you're registering for national exams. We would fill [her mother’s] name and my grandfather's name on the form. So I would always ask, what's [her father’s] name? Like, where is he? Once I was about to do my national exams, she had to sit me down because it was getting complicated. She shed light on why she doesn’t have all the information. That's how the story of Concern and her living in the refugee camp as a young mom came up.”

Bose was not actually born in Rwanda. Her mother fled her home in Rwanda in 1994 to the Kitale refugee camp near Goma in Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire. Camps in Goma were overcrowded, with cholera and starvation threatening the inhabitants. After two years in the camp, Marie-Ange became pregnant. When she gave birth to Bose, Marie-Ange herself was malnourished and struggling. This is when Concern came into her life. She remembers Concern  - whose teams had mounted a humanitarian response across Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and DRC - providing aid at the time she needed it most. 

She told us: “It really touched me deep in my heart when they gave us biscuits, milk and other food. I was so thankful to get that help from Concern.” Marie-Ange began saving parts of her food rations, and with her secret food package, decided to travel for three months on foot back to Rwanda with her baby girl. “I ate the biscuits one by one, through the journey of three months, and it gave me the strength to feed my daughter."

A continuation of the story

Aline Joyce Berabose with her mother Marie-Ange Beriman
Aline Joyce Berabose with her mother Marie-Ange Beriman. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Discovering not only that she was born in a refugee camp, but the lengths her mother went to to bring her to Rwanda, changed Bose’s entire career trajectory. She previously wanted to become a pilot, but her conversation with her mother inspired her to devote her time to activism. Bose said: “I always wanted to use my free time to volunteer for genocide survivors and widows and teaching young kids in debating and public speaking. But after I finished high school, that became like my main focus - venturing into activism and working with the most vulnerable groups in the community.”

Part of this activism was her role as global youth ambassador for Concern. With her family connection to Concern, Bose said it was “beautiful” to work with the organisation. “For me, it's always been like a continuation of a story. People like my mother, their stories are not highlighted as heroes. There's no recognition, like this person definitely had a brave, courageous journey raising this kid on her own. So becoming the global youth ambassador and getting a chance to speak on a stage with Bono or Bill Clinton and my mom being there in the room, it just felt like a moment for me to celebrate and highlight what my mom means to me."

It’s not about romanticising my mom's journey or romanticising pain and the struggles, but it kind of gives it credit that it mattered, it happened, and an affirmation of who I am and what I'm doing. I'm proud. I'm proud to be part of this story.

Aline Berabose - CEO, LUNA

Bose has since been a powerful voice in the feminist activism space, campaigning around women’s sexual and reproductive health including the tax exemption for menstrual pads. She is now CEO and co-founder of LUNA, a start-up that provides telehealth services to women so they can access the information and health products they need and reach out to trusted service providers. “LUNA is building a community of women to learn about this stigma surrounding our bodies and learning about every stage of our lives, anything concerning our bodies, but also to create a much more comprehensive quality access to healthcare,” Bose - who recently was named Health and Wellness Pioneer at the Women In Leadership Awards - explained. “We are really trying to fill in the gaps that exist in gender health.”

A huge shift

Concern Youth Ambassador, Aline Joyce Berabose pictured while giving her address entitled 'A Journey of Hope' at the Concern Resurge Conference, Dublin Castle
Concern Youth Ambassador, Aline Joyce Berabose pictured while giving her address entitled 'A Journey of Hope' at the Concern Resurge Conference, Dublin Castle Photo: Photocall Ireland / Concern Worldwide

As a women’s rights activist and part of the post-genocide generation, Bose can see in real time the steps Rwanda is making in terms of gender equality in her lifetime. For example, Rwanda is the first country in the world with a female majority (61.3%) in parliament. The country’s progress post-genocide in just three decades is remarkable. “Sometimes, it’s almost unbelievable to describe it,” Bose said. She remembered her time living with her mother in the capital city of Kigali, where a collective of HIV positive women who had survived the genocide lived in the same building. Bose noticed the stigma that surrounded the group, and the lack of support they got as widows and women living with HIV. “I knew that some families would tell their kids not to play with me because I lived in that compound,” she said. Bose also remembered a young couple that lived next to her; her mother took the woman to hospital after she was beaten by her partner on multiple occasions.

“Now, domestic violence is the most insane crime a man can do in Rwanda,” Bose said. “People used to be proud speaking about beating their wives, and it was known that the man who loves you will beat you. But I don't think any Rwandan man right now can publicly say something like that. And that's the difference.

“It’s a huge shift from what I knew growing up with a single mom and as a young girl, to what the country is now. I think there's been so much fast growth, changing the idea of what a woman is. And obviously this is not to say that we have accomplished everything. There is a lot we have to do, like a lot of work that needs to be done and changing the mindset. But if I have to look back, it almost seems impossible. Like, how could we have achieved the level where women even have a voice to speak about these things? There's so much that has changed that it almost feels like two completely different nations.” 

Concern's work in Rwanda

Marie-Claire Ayinkamiye in her plot of land in Rwanda
Mother-of-five Marie-Claire Ayinkamiye has built a new house and owns a cow, goat and pig in Muganza, Gisagara. Marie-Claire runs a successful business selling grains and legumes. Photo: Eugene Ikua/Concern Worldwide

Concern has worked in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994, and as shown above, truly remarkable progress has been made. However, chronic malnutrition and poverty still exist in the poorest provinces in Rwanda, with 38.2% of the population living in poverty and 16% in extreme poverty. Rwanda is ranked 165th out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index 2022.

We are supporting communities in Rwanda with our Graduation programme. With the provision of cash transfers, coaching and mentoring, access to financial services and business skills training, participants are equipped with the tools, resources and opportunities to improve their lives and secure their livelihoods and incomes. Between 2017 and 2022, 2,700 vulnerable households in Gisagara district in southern Rwanda took part in our Graduation programme.

Our new Green Graduation Programme launched in early 2023, and aims to reach 1,200 families living in extreme poverty in two districts. Find out more about Graduation in Rwanda here

Concern is also supporting the most vulnerable families in the Southern Province of Rwanda to improve their food and nutrition security, with funding from the European Union. The project has a particular focus on climate smart agriculture and agroforestry, ensuring that the food produced and income generated can be sustainable long into the future. 

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