A woman named Constance.

18 ½ years ago, Constance Bangire was working as a primary school teacher in the town of Masoro, east of Kigali, teaching second grade. She and her husband, who worked as an executive in a nearby mining company, had two young daughters and a baby son at home and two sons, aged 14 and 16, in secondary school. And then the genocide happened.

In those 100 days of horror, Constance’s husband and two sons were murdered. Her house was burned to the ground. And she and 24 genocide survivors took refuge in the school where she’d taught children to do their letters and color happy pictures.

The orphans’ records in the boulangerie.

I’m not sure what I would have done under those circumstances (my mind won’t even go there), but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have done what Constance did. Once the school reopened, she and 7 other women survivors decided to share their teaching salaries with other widows and orphans of the genocide, who literally had nothing to sustain themselves or their families—no homes, no livestock, no food.

Orphans waiting for bread outside the boulangerie in Masoro.

Each woman contributed $30/month to that fund and Constance came up with the idea of getting local women to make tablecloths and dresses they could sell. Then she went to the Minister of the Family and asked for goats and sheep to replace the slaughtered livestock, and she started writing proposals to international donor organizations, hoping they might support her efforts.

Genocide survivor, sewing since 1996…

In 1995, the Swiss-Italian NGO Insieme Per La Pace stepped in to help and L’Association Dushyigikirane was born. In its first 4 years, Constance focused on helping genocide survivors, but then she said she started feeling bad about only helping people from her tribe. “I received some trainings, I went to my Catholic church, I prayed a lot, and I learned to forgive.”

Orphan girls waiting for bread.

“Everyone was having problems, not just the survivors. All the animals had been killed, our bananas were taken, our land and crops were gone, and our husbands were either dead or in prison.”

“Before the genocide, Hutus and Tutsis were always together. But afterwards, people feared each other and were scared to be together. So I just brought them in the same room to work.”

Today, Constance’s organization employs almost 100 people (mostly women) and has built most of the town’s center.

The pretty new community center of Masoro.

There’s a thriving village bank that provides microfinance loans at 2% interest; new meeting hall; a boulangerie that distributes 2 loaves of bread twice a week to 961 orphans and pays their school fees with sales of its delicious corn cakes; a dress-making operation; local handicrafts cooperative; retail store; tilapia fish pond; fabric shop; sugar cane café; apiculture co-op; classes in literacy, finance, and adult education; a home-building project for 67 homeless people; basic provisions supplied to 82 old people – and of course, a Heifer project.

Once Constance heard in 2004 that Heifer might give her neighbors cows, she was on it. Because her local organization was so strong, L’Association Dushyigikirane received 32 cows over the past few years, and will be getting 36 additional pregnant heifers before the end of the year.

Agnes Akayezu has been working with Constance’s handicrafts organization for 10 years.

A Heifer-paid vet works with the village, as does an animal health care worker, to keep the animals healthy and producing milk. Constance is a big fan of Heifer but thinks her village should be getting a lot more animals. I’d be the last one to disagree.

Gabrielle Mjyonjyoh, one of Constance’s first village bank customers, with her savings passbook.

“I’m the Mother to everyone in Masoro,” Constance says matter-of-factly. “I try to see those who are in need and do something about it.”

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Rwanda, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “A woman named Constance.

  1. rose

    Thank you for expanding my world!

  2. Susannah

    Constance is amazing.

  3. An amazing story, thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Alice Sperling

    OK. You made in cry again. What a wonderful triumph and story.

    • I really am not TRYING to make y’all cry — but how beautiful is this woman’s story?? I just was so inspired by her 18-year long journey of such passion and commitment … to move beyond her personal tragedy and help everyone in her community heal. I seriously don’t think I would be capable of that.

      • rose

        This was also very timely. I just watched Sometimes in April about the 100 day genocide.

  5. Aww… I’m saddened and hopeful. What one does for survival is inspiring.

  6. What a glorious spirit Constance has. I so admire her for having the strength to carry on and search for a better way to live and help others.

    Betty, you do wonderful work!

    • Ronnie, thanks so much for your comment! I have the best “job” in the world … and it’s so great to be able to write a story like Constance’s… so happy you wrote!

  7. Susan Smythe

    Yes, again with the tears – but this time of gratitude – well, that’s actually mostly the case when I read your stuff, but gratitude that such people exist on the earth. I want everyone to know this!

  8. I am so happy to hear you liked the story, Susan and btw, Happy Labor Day!! xoxoox b

  9. You think you have “the best job” ? OMG I could NOT do what you do. Hearing your stories is hard enough. I can flit over to someone else’s blog and be “gone” but you ARE there. You don’t flit away.

    Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were more Constances ?

    • The world would be AMAZING and peaceful if we had more Constances.. that is for sure. When I hear Condoleeza Rice (the woman who was all about us going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what have those wars done for us in terms of making us safer, making us friends, or accomplishing anything??) bash Obama, claiming that he’s made the world more unsafe AND that “strength is power” I think of Constance and her ability to forgive, move on, and make the world a better place and I know which side I’m on. And yes — I do think I’ve got the best “job” in the world. If for nothing else than meeting Constance, I’d happily volunteer another year and all those hours in the back of a plane!

      Thanks for the comment, Sybil!!

  10. Touching. Very well done – thanks.

  11. Oh my…you are an ambassador…thank you for sharing. Ivette

  12. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Our country as well as so many other places in this world need to take a lesson from Constance. I don’t think I could muster that ability to forgive in her shoes. May god shine on her and help many more of us see the light and the glory in forgiving!!

  13. agreed, Deb — I’ve never been that great at forgiving people for what I perceive is wrongdoing — all of which pales in comparison to what Constance experienced — but boy, do I have a model to remember now! And .. she’s not just forgiving, she’s actively intervening to try to improve the lives of people who were aligned with the folks who killed her husband and two sons. Simply unbelievable grace.

  14. i love how she felt bad about “ONLY” helping those in her tribe….what if we all had that kind of passion for being the hands and feet of christ…thank you for reminding me that there are people out there that are giving up themselves for others and for God!!

  15. Constance’s story is humbling, and inspiring. Forgiveness sounds simple, but it’s not. It’s not easy to forget that those people killed her husband and her two sons!

  16. Rosie, It is simply unimaginable to me — and as beautiful as her smile was, when she was recounting those days, I almost couldn’t bear to see the pain in her face. It’s not like she’s forgotten, but she has forgiven .. and that totally blows my mind!

  17. Another absolutely beautiful post. Thanks so much for sharing their stories!

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