Reporting Anjali Hemphill
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It’s been almost two decades and the nation of Rwanda is still healing from the genocide that claimed more than a million lives. A Sac State University professor, whose family was wiped out in Rwanda, is being honored by President Obama for her efforts to rebuild that nation.
CBS13’s Anjali Hemphill lived in Rwanda during that genocide and shares her’s and the professor’s unique experience.
“When I was 10 years old my family was living in Rwanda as US diplomats when we found ourselves caught up in that terrible civil war. We were forced to evacuate, leaving with whatever we could fit in a few bags,” said Anjali. “And it’s honestly been a long time since I thought about that traumatizing experience until I saw Mathilde Mukantabana’s name in a local newspaper.”
“Almost 70 people are buried on my family land,” said Mukantabana.
Nineteen years ago, more than 1 million people were slaughtered during a mass genocide in Rwanda. It was a violent war that was fueled by local governments who promoted the exile of an entire population.
Thousands of refugees were forced to flee.
“Of course you are numb. You look at the magnitude of the people who were killed — the numbers and you are helpless for many years,” said Mukantabana.
Mukantabana left Rwanda for Sacramento many years before the war, but the same day she accepted a teaching position at Cosumnes River College, she found out her entire family had been slaughtered in the bloodshed.
“The way people are dealing with the tragedy and how they were able to turn it around — that has been incredible,” said Mukantabana.
Mukantabana later found strength and inspiration after what happened to her family. She started Friends of Rwanda, an organization that builds schools, teaches vocational skills and provides housing for the thousands of Rwandans in need.
“That was also one of the major reasons why we were able to heal or to make sense of the genocide. We really had a lot of people who rallied around us,” said Mukantabana.
Her efforts caught the attention of President Obama, who named Mukantabana the new Rwandan ambassador to the United States.
“This country is a good friend of Rwanda,” said Mukantabana. “We have enjoyed great relationships and we will continue with that.”
It’s an incredible story of how one woman helped an entire county rise up from the ashes.
“I’m so happy to see you and I would maybe encourage you to go to Rwanda and see the difference — then and now,” Mukantabana told me.
Mukantabana organizes a volunteer group every year from this area to go to Rwanda and help out at her organization.
Even though Mukantabana makes Sacramento her home, she spends a lot of time in Washington DC and Rwanda.