Drive for results: Antoine’s journey of nearly three decades serving children in Rwanda

Antoine Habimana is one of UNICEF Rwanda's longest-serving staff members, having joined UNICEF in 1994 as a driver. In the nearly three decades since, Antoine has seen it all. As UNICEF celebrates its 75th anniversary, Antoine recounts his journey.

By Pamela Mudakikwa
UNICEF driver Antoine Habimana
13 December 2021

When Antoine joined UNICEF Rwanda back in July 1994 as a driver, he was excited about the new job and in particular, working for the United Nations. At 37 years of age and having narrowly survived the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, a new and exciting page in his life was unfolding.

Little did he know that he was embarking on a new movement of rebuilding a country that had lost so much, a journey of restoring hope and life for Rwandans who had suffered unimaginable pain, including little children.

As he recounts moments of fear and uncertainty in his first few months at work, Antoine closes his eyes and reminisces those days of despair and anguish. He takes a few deep breathes to collect himself before coming back to the present.

"There was no infrastructure, and we were in the midst of a severe water and food crisis. It was a hard time for UNICEF as an organization and for us as staff members."

Antoine Habimana

“UNICEF was working in an emergency. There were many seriously wounded people, thousands of orphans, children who were separated from their families, overflowing refugee camps, and everyone seemed to have lost hope. There was no infrastructure, and we were in the midst of a severe water and food crisis. It was a hard time for UNICEF as an organization and for us as staff members,” he recounts.

"I will never forget the first day I was assigned to drive consultants and military veterans on a de-mining mission. It was my hardest field mission as I had no experience in landmines and battlefields. I feared for my own life; I thought I would step on a landmine and explode! I also feared for my colleagues, I believed I was responsible for anything that would happen to them. It was tough!"

Antoine did not give up. He knew that his work was about changing lives and seeing the results was his best motivating factor.

"We would work overtime and sometimes nonstop for twenty-four hours. We used to travel with sleeping bags because we never knew where the night would find us. But over time, as we started to see children going back to schools, others reconnecting with their families, we knew we had worked for a noble cause," Antoine says.

Antoine displaying his ID from years past

This year, UNICEF is celebrating 75 years of working tirelessly for child rights and for the well-being of every child. Since 1986, UNICEF has been working with the Government of Rwanda and other partners to improve the situation of children and ensure their rights are known and respected.

27 years down the road with UNICEF, Antoine expresses his appreciation for all the great strides the country has made, with UNICEF right there, every step of the way.

His favourite UNICEF initiative is the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Programme that provides comprehensive services to the little ones to ensure their healthy growth. Every time he drives his colleagues to fields missions related to ECD, he enjoys seeing how this programme has brought hope to communities, enabling parents to work peacefully while their children are being taken care of at day care centres.

"Every morning, when I see children crossing the roads going to school, I feel a sense of accomplishment for having been part of the journey that brought this country to where it is today. I will retire soon with gratitude knowing that Rwandan children are in safe hands and have a bright future. Knowing that I have contributed to that, gives me an eternal sense of accomplishment."

Antoine, a father of two grown-up children, says UNICEF has taught him everything he knows about parenting and raising happy kids. He believes education is the best gift a child can receive, and his golden piece of advice as an elder is: "Invest in a child because tomorrow belongs to them."

He encourages his fellow UNICEF Staff to always bear in their minds that whatever they are doing at UNICEF, they are doing for every child in Rwanda and around the world.

2021/UNICEF Rwanda