In 1994, a civil war had been raging for four years in the country of Rwanda.
Then, over the course of 100 days, 800,000 people were killed in a mass genocide that drew worldwide attention.
As sometimes happens when things like this go on, rape as a weapon was used extensively to create terror among the population — so much so, that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped.
An estimated 20,000 children were born from this indescribable tragedy and the after effects of the war.
What do the mothers want for these children? An education.
Enter Foundation Rwanda.
Formed in 2007, it has worked with these women ever since. I spoke with Jules Shell, director of Foundation Rwanda, who talked about her experience forming this program.
"When I co-founded FR, we interviewed 30 mothers, all genocide survivors with children born of rape," says Shell. "We asked the same question at the end of each interview: 'If you had the means, what would be your wish in life?' Every mother replied with the same answer: education for their children."
The shocking problem with getting them an education? Even though there are programs for government-sponsored education, these children are not considered "survivors" because they were born after the genocide.
"We created Foundation Rwanda and partnered with local NGOs to respond to their wishes," Shell says. "These children may represent a dark period of history, but they also represent life and the hope for a brighter future."
It will make a difference in their lives that is not even fathomable by our standards.
"In Rwanda, you go to school when it is possible, when you can afford the school fees and the cost of transport, shoes, books and uniform, and finishing high school can take twice as long or more for these students in particular than it would in America or Europe. Every child should have the equal right to education no matter the circumstances of their birth."
So far, Foundation Rwanda has raised $1.8 million in donations for education for their children and trauma counseling for the mothers. This has enabled over 850 students to attend secondary school.
In addition this year, each mother has contributed $41 per school term themselves to make up for shortfalls in funding that Foundation Rwanda cannot bear.
Many of these women live on an average of $1.25 a day or less.
Now, Foundation Rwanda must raise another $150,000 by the end of year to pay for an education for each one of these precious children — this will allow every student to graduate and will complete FR's mission.
Here, in their own words, are some of the women who want their kids to succeed.
“I wish the world to know that in Rwanda life still goes on even after we lost our dear ones. The program is very valuable because it helped me to know that even my child born from a killer can be like other children. My greatest hope in life is to see my child growing and having a family and children. Without Foundation Rwanda, my child would not be in school. I have no job to pay for her school fees." — Mukanyemazi
“I want the world to know our children born of rape are children like others and must be given equal opportunities in the world. My greatest wish is for my daughter to attend a good school and go to university." — Uwumukiza
Claudine, one of the children featured in the video below, has simple yet grand aspirations.
If you want to help, here are some ways:
2. You can purchase the Foundation Rwanda coloring book. The images are by some of the children, and proceeds from the book go to funding their education.
3. Change Heroes has a campaign where you can help crowdfund this project by getting friends to give a few bucks per day.
Here's a video on the families, the Foundation Rwanda coloring book, and what it means to them: hope.