In 1994, the Tutsi genocide claimed the lives of two important people—the parents of a young girl called Immaculée. At the tender age of nine, she was separated from her sister, and sent to live in the busy house of her uncle, who already had five children to look after. Her sister was sent to live with a foster family, far away, on the other side of the country.
Years later, at the age of 20, violence struck Immaculée's life once again. Someone who should have offered protection—a cousin—raped her. Immaculée became pregnant.
As society would have it, she was also left to be alone. When her baby girl arrived, her foster family kicked her out, because society told them that having the mother of an illegitimate child in your family was shameful.
“I didn’t tell anyone that the man who had raped me was a member of my family, because I wanted to protect the rest of the family," Immaculée recalls. "I only told the truth when I talked about it with the psychologist from Handicap International.”
As an orphan of the genocide, Immaculée was able to move into a house made available to her by the authorities. “The problem was that lots of men tried to take advantage of me because I was a single, vulnerable woman," she says. "That’s when I was seduced by a man who promised me the moon, but just left me with my second child. In fact, he was already married. Fortunately, he wanted to recognize the child, which means a lot for us.”
For the past two years, Immaculée has been taking part in therapy sessions with the support of Handicap International psychologists. She has only just spoken about what happened to her. Thanks to discussion groups, she knows that she’s not alone—she has rights and she has to try to enforce them.
Handicap International will help Immaculée find her cousin, the father of her first child, and convince him to recognize the child. It will be a major step forward.
Therapy also taught her to accept her two daughters. “I didn’t used to feel any affection for them, but now I give them all the love they need.
“I’m still angry about what happened. I can’t help it. I could have had a normal, loving family,” she says, noting that she’s unable to trust men. “I don’t want to get married. I’m frightened that a new husband won’t want to protect my children. It can only lead to conflict. No, I prefer to be alone for the rest of my life.”
She listens closely to the four women in the group who talk to her about their partners. They include three women who have each told their new husbands what happened to them, and that they have illegitimate children. All three husbands accepted the situation. Maybe there’s hope after all.