Marie Claudine Mukamabano, a Kigali, Rwanda native who lost her family during the 1994 Rwandan genocide — in which Hutus and Tutsis were killed by Hutu extremists — founded her nonprofit Kuki Ndiho (Why Do I Exist?) in 2005. Kiko Ndiho supports orphans and victims of the genocide.
The only representative of African women selected to speak on a panel at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in February 2011, Mukamabano founded the United Nations Peace Day in Rwanda. She also received recognition from the Assembly of the State of New York in 2011 for turning a life of hardship into leadership and advocacy.
She is also a speaker, artist, actress, model, author of The Power of Social Media: Be Yourself & Change Somebody’s Life Today! and owner of the Dance Rwanda Theater Company. In this interview Mukamabano shares her experiences with genocide — which she conquered through forgiveness, starting her nonprofit and encouraging fellow orphans to give back while accepting their lives.
AFK Insider: “Why Do I Exist?” is such a profound name for an organization. What is the meaning behind it?
Mukamabano: Kuki Ndiho means “Why Do I Exist?” I am an entertainer. I dance and I sing. I was sitting with Jean Paul Samputu, a former Rwandan artist, and we were having a conversation about what we can do to help our people. I remember I told him that I wanted to give my organization a name that would immediately reflect me because most of the time, people call on other people to help out but they don’t accept responsibility. I wanted the organization’s name to reflect my personal responsibility. Kuki Ndiho. Why do I exist? Because it’s my duty to help others before I even sit down and say, “I need someone to help me, too.”
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AFK Insider: Tell us about your experience during the Rwandan genocide
Mukamabano: It was a big loss. I had to deal with trauma. After my mom was killed, I hated everybody. I hated the Hutus. I hated the Tutsis. They killed my relatives. They killed my grandparents. They even killed my mom who I thought was going to survive. It was too much pain and emotion and I had to go through trauma. It took me over 10 years to deal with the fact that I don’t have a mother. I loved my mom so much. She was my best friend and she was my inspiration. She was the one who was pushing me to do everything.
AFK Insider: What inspired you to start your organization?
Mukamabano: Many people were getting shot to my right side, my left side and in front of me. So I thought I would die too because I was by myself. I don’t know what happened. Every time I try to remember, it doesn’t come in my mind. I remember how I reunited again with my mom but I don’t remember what happened when we were separated. That time, I was by myself, that’s what I remember. I was jumping over the dead bodies and they were shooting because soldiers were fighting with rebel soldiers, so we had to go through the gunfire and then the Hutus were killing at the same time. I said, “God, if you save my life here and I survive, I will help orphans.”
My dream was then to go to America and once I got there, I told myself, “I have to immediately start my organization.”