For the last 70 years, World Vision has responded to crises. In times of war and human suffering, we have seen ordinary people come together to support the most vulnerable, especially children, in some of the most challenging times.. We are inspired by our Christian faith to help people of all backgrounds in the world’s most dangerous places.
In 1994, an uneasy ceasefire paused the Rwanda civil war and a mass slaughter of civilians, which became known as the ‘Rwanda genocide’. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in just three months, while 2 million people were displaced and later became refugees in the neighbouring countries. As families fled from the horrific violence, children were separated from their parents. The very young just followed the terrified crowd of people, running for their lives in the chaos.
Margaret Jephson, a World Vision photojournalist, hopped on a plane, leaving behind the safety of her home, to travel to the devastated zone in the days after news of the genocide broke. She touched down in Rwanda and set to work documenting the stories of horror and hope as she travelled through the countryside. When it came time to return home, she decided she couldn’t leave just yet. There was so much work still to be done for vulnerable children.
So she put her camera aside and focused on the difficult task of reuniting children with their families amongst the 600,000 refugees returning to their home.
While at the World Vision Unaccompanied Children Centre in southern Rwanda, Margaret found herself amongst 4,000 ‘lost children’. One girl that Margaret met was 14-year-old Nyirahakazimana, whose name means ‘It is God who saves us’ and her two sisters, who had been searching for any surviving relative.
After a painstaking search, Margaret learned that Nyirahakazimana’s grandmother was alive and looking for her grandchildren.
On November 25, Margaret took the children for a walk along a dusty road. Unbeknownst to the girls, they were heading to their grandmother’s house. What a wonderful surprise for them. Nyirahakazimana’s eyes were wide open as she searched for some hint of the familiar or some face recalled from the past. Suddenly, the teen’s eyes lit upon her grandmother standing at the door of her old house, and the three sisters immediately ran to her arms and hugged warmly.
Margaret is a hidden hero who walked with the most vulnerable children through the dangerous environment left by the Rwanda Genocide. Families were separated. Children were left without parents, with no way to survive. Entire communities had to rebuild. Rwandans had to figure out a way to move on with their lives after their own neighbours had turned on them, and in many cases even killed their loved ones. Survivors were scared by what they had witnessed during the 100-day massacre. At the time, recovery and a return to any sense of normalcy seemed like a distant dream. Yet Margaret was determined to help children like Nyirahakazimana, so she continued to work behind the scenes, helping to reunite many other families.
Thanks to hidden heroes just like Margaret, World Vision tracing teams reunited 923 children with their families.
The support of Hidden heroes, helped make World Vision’s response to the Rwanda Genocide possible
- World Vision’s Unaccompanied Children Centres in Byumba and Nyamata received 4,000 children, 923 were reunited with their families.
- Sponsors from many countries donated carrot seeds as part of a huge project to provide seeds and tools to Rwanda’s neediest families. These generous families then helped with food assistance for 86,000 households in 32 communities.
- After ethnic violence overtook Ruhengeri in northwest Rwanda, World Vision worked with African Enterprise to run a series of ‘Healing and Forgiveness’ seminars in the torn community. From 28-30 August 1998, the community celebrated on-going reconciliation and healing in the community.
Now in 2020, our hardworking team in Rwanda continues to support more than 1.5 million people – especially the most vulnerable girls and boys.
Ordinary people are demonstrating courage and replacing fear with hope. Here’s how you can join the movement of hidden heroes now.