To survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Godelieve Mukasarasi is a role model, counsellor, and a go-to friend. She has dedicated her life to advocating for widows, orphans, rape victims and children born out of rape for the last 27 years. Her mission is to some day see resilience, happiness and prosperity where there was once sorrow and poverty.
Mukasarasi was born in Gitarama, now Muhanga District, in 1959. During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when death was roaming, Mukasarasi fled to a church hoping killers would not be inhuman enough to kill people in the house of God. She was with her family and could not bear the thought of losing her children.
So, she prayed that if God spared her life and her family's, she would dedicate hers life to helping others.
Mukasarasi lost her husband and daughter, but she gathered the courage to support others. In November 1994, five months after the Rwanda Patriotic Army ended the massacre, it was time for her to deliver on her promise.
She founded a group called Sevota, a support group to help widows and orphans to further their socio-economic rights.
The organization emphasizes the creation of “safe spaces” for survivor dialogues and physical recreation for children and is based in the Kamonyi district, Southern Province.
In the beginning, she would gather five women from her neighborhood, now in Kamonyi district, most of whom were widows and rape victims. They would gather to just pray and share whatever resources they had.
Twenty-eight years later, her support team has grown to over 2,200 members. She has managed to gather funding to enable their children and orphans go to school.
Despite cruel memories and the loss of loved ones, members of Sevota, have found a family in each other.
“Seeing the transformation that happened over the years, seeing some members eventually become happy and forgiving is what I live for. It is exciting and encouraging to think that just small acts of support and kindness can have such a huge impact. Spending time with beneficiaries fires my passion,” Mukasarasi says with a smile on her face.
At 63, the devout Catholic and mother, still lives in Kamonyi and has an office in Kigali. She has received five international awards, the International Women of Courage Award in 2018 and the John Humphrey Freedom Award in 2004.
“Sevota’s mission is important to us. We now help our members bounce back from the effects of the Covid-19. We want to secure more funding and partnership to amplify our impact. We are dedicated and resilient,” Mukasarasi says.
In the past 28 years, limited funding, the genocide ideology and denialism, trauma, and untreated physical and emotional injuries from the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, remain some of Sevota’s challenges.
However, she is optimistic their children who are now young professionals in their late 20s, will take up the beacon and fight even strongly than they did.