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Real lives

Sankara’s story of survival

Sankara Ntawukuriryayo was born in Rwanda in 1986, the first son of the director of the local primary school. In 1994, when he was seven years old, war broke out. His family fled to a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Sankara’s father taught in the camp, but he was not paid for it and the family relied on handouts - generally stew and maize bread. After some time, Sankara’s mother became pregnant, and gave birth to two boys.

Shortly after, Sankara’s father became sick. He was hospitalized, but because the family could not afford to pay for medical care, he was forced to leave the hospital and return to the refugee camp.

Nobody seemed to know what the disease was, and some speculated that Sankara’s father had been poisoned. Soon, however, Sankara’s little brother fell ill as well.

“At first, neighbors would come to visit us and bring us something to eat, but then in the end they deserted us. Everyone was busy trying to survive. My mother was struggling alone and although I was still young, I felt I had to do something to help get food for us while she cared for father.”

Soon, both Sankara’s father and his little brother died. The cause was AIDS.

Not long after his father’s death, Sankara’s mother became ill. Sankara became responsible for her and his other brother. Other children in the refugee camp shunned him, saying he had a “don’t touch us” disease. Nobody would help him care for his mother because they said that she too had the “disease with no cure.”

Sankara’s mother soon died, and he was on his own with his little brother. He spent his days searching for wood, fetching water and firewood, or lugging loads for market traders. The work earned him enough money to buy maize flour.

One day, a band of rebel soldiers near the camp kidnapped him. They forced him to fight for three years, when he was captured by Rwandan Government forces in the bush bordering Uganda.

The Government transferred him to Gitagata, a UNICEF-supported centre run by the Rwandan NGO ASOFERWA (Association de Solidarite des Femmes Rwandaises). Gitagata provides care for about 300 young boys who were captured by the rebel forces, many of whom, like Sankara, were orphaned by AIDS. UNICEF closely monitors the centre’s inhabitants and provides assistance ranging from blankets, jerry-cans, soap and high-energy biscuits, to psychosocial counselling. 

UNICEF also works with Save the Children UK and the International Committee of the Red Cross to help trace family members so that children might be reunited with living relatives. So far, relatives of 120 children have been successfully located.

Sankara knows that he will never see his parents again because he saw them both die of AIDS. He might, however, be able to find his little brother. In the meantime, he is attempting to create a more normal life.



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