Fate or Fortune. What’s the Alternative?

My uncle recently passed away at only 50 years old as a result of an accident. One that had his company employed the correct health and safety procedures, could have been avoided. I cannot even begin to put into words the shock, anger and pain that this has caused my entire family. To lose someone so suddenly to something that didn’t have to happen just doesn’t seem fair.

I used to be a strong believer that everything happens for a reason even if we never understand that reason, however now I’m really not so sure.

In fact, this story that I am about to share with you shakes me to my inner core and makes me question further my own belief as well as the basic morals of humanity….

Our project coordinator over here, Donatien, is a gentle man, as well as being incredibly intelligent (just finishing off his MBA.) His achievements and demeanour seem all the more impressive however, when you learn that he is also a genocide survivor.

As we sat over lunch in a Rwandan coffee shop that overlooks the city, we talked about life, family and friends. Donatien asked about my family and whether I have any brothers or sisters, aunties and uncles and if my parents are still alive. I tell him that I have a very close family, that my parents are both alive and that my brother lives overseas so I don’t get to see him much, but we chat often on the internet and phone and I have quite a few aunties and uncles, however recently my uncle who I was very close to passed away.

I could see in his eyes he understood the sadness of losing someone close, and then began to tell me the story of his family.

Donatien supports his two sisters (16 and 24) and one brother (18), who are all studying. He had a large family and, like mine, they were very close. So when he lost both of his parents, his aunties and uncles took him and his 6 siblings in.

That was until the genocide, which took place only 15 years ago.

In one hundred days he lost six uncles, four aunties, three sisters, and all of his cousins apart from one. The large loving, close-knit family he had come from was destroyed in one fell swoop. He remembers it vividly, describing to me how his Hutu neighbour had come into his family home and attacked his family.

As they were being injured by the very people he grew up with, his own neighbours and friends, the entire family fled, running off in all directions.

Donatien ran to another neighbour, who was also a Hutu, and should have been a threat.

However, as Donatien used to take care of their cows, he hoped and prayed that they would take him in and hide him as the alternative just wasn’t worth thinking about.

Luckily he was right and remained hidden in this house for weeks, not knowing if any of his family were alive, let alone safe.

When the genocide came to a close 100 days later he was finally able to search for his family, knowing that they could be amongst the one million people murdered.

At this time Donatien was only 16 years old, so was taken into an orphanage.

Within three months he was reunited with his three-year old sister who had also been hiding with some family friends. It wasn’t until three years later that he discovered another of his siblings was alive. The brave little girl has fled to the Congo. Living with complete strangers, she had changed her name to protect herself. She was later reunited with Donatien, along with one of his brothers.

I ask Donatien where he found the strength to continue, the courage to go on…..and he looked me in the eye and said “Andrea, you tell me what was the alternative?”

He was right. With three younger siblings to care for, Donatien went to work selling shoes on the side of the road to provide for his family.

Then, hearing about a trust fund set up for genocide survivors, he worked his way through school and university. And now here he is, working as our project coordinator and just about to finish his MBA!

I have tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this story as I am truly humbled and in awe of this amazing man, a true survivior.

He has even since met with the perpetrators, his neighbours and friends who brutally killed his family and changed his world forever and he forgives them.

Again, this is something I cannot get my head around. However once again, Donatien looks me in the eye and says “Andrea, what is the alternative?” and I guess he is right.

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