By the time I was five, I realized that life was not simple. At that point in my young life, I was in a refugee camp in my home country, Rwanda. I was born in 1990 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire). My father, a Rwandan refugee who had left his country as part of the diaspora, was already married and had seven children when he took a second wife. Toward the end of 1990, the second wife gave birth to me. I was given the name Ndekezi and later the second name Richard.

When I was a year old, my parents divorced and as is the custom in this part of Africa, this meant I had to be raised by a stepmother on my father’s side. A few years later, war broke out in the DRC and the first victims were the Rwandans living there. In neighboring Rwanda, the genocide against Tutsis had just been stopped, but many of the perpetrators who carried out the genocide had fled to the DRC and any Tutsi were their main target. We had no choice but to leave Congo and return home, although to one I had never seen. What I found there at first, however, nearly ended my life.

We went to a refugee camp in Gisenyi called Nkamira. Although no camp is enjoyable, ours was deadly. Water was scarce and finding food was a struggle that only the fittest could risk. We lived on empty stomachs for days. Sanitation was another big problem, and people in the camp were dying of cholera and other diseases. I can remember many children I used to play with who disappeared from my life. Even more frightening was the fact that the leaders of the genocide and those who had allied with them were still killing people whenever they got a chance. Life in the camp was so risky, sometimes parents left behind their own children. Thank God, my stepmother was too kind to abandon me after my father died in 1998. I often ask myself how I survived, but I believe God saved me so that I could work to improve others’ lives in Rwanda and beyond.

In 1998, when security was restored in Rwanda, we left the camp. In 2001, I joined the Sonrise School and orphanage founded by Bishop John Rucyahana as a home for Rwandan orphans and other poor children. At Sonrise, my hope was restored. I came to see life beyond the scars of my past. The past was no longer a threat to my life and neither was it the sole determinant of my future. All I had experienced shaped my life. As a maize seed first decays in order to grow and yield a harvest, so we had endured suffering in order to become the people we were meant to be.

I have realized that the mirror through which we visualize our lives should change from the influence of our past to a focus on the present as we work to prepare for tomorrow. I have gone through the fire of adversity, and in the process gained an ambitious character with the aim to change the lives of others through my zeal for engineering and social entrepreneurship. Currently, I am working with some friends on development projects that target children who face difficulties in succeeding at school. We are working to create a community organization, Engage Rwanda, to promote education for children in rural areas by helping them to learn English better and sooner. I now see all the difficulties I have faced as opportunities through which I should always learn. The background of a person is not the only determinant of his future. However hard an experience we have, we can still shape our lives for the better.