In 1994, as a ten-year-old boy, Pius Nishimwe and his family were forced to flee the genocide in Rwanda. They took shelter in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where GOAL provided them with support. Inspired by the work of GOAL during his stay at the camp, Pius followed a dream he set for himself after he left the camp. Today he is living that dream and is working as Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Coordinator with GOAL in Sierra Leone… in his own words, he says, ‘It’s my time to give something back’’…. This is his story.
After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, it was a very difficult time for everybody. It’s well known that an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed. Along with my parents, my two brothers and my three sisters, we had to flee the country. We ended up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At first, we lived in a slum in Bukavu City, in south Kivu province. Life there was extremely difficult. As my parents were not employed, it was barely possible to have even one meal per day. As a family, we really struggled to survive. After five months in Bukavu, we then moved to a camp in Nyangezi.
Life in this camp was also full of challenges, but, at that time, moving there was really the best option for us to have any chance to access food. It’s hard to describe, but we had to focus on the very basic needs of our everyday life – things which I guess a lot of other people can take for granted – food, education, water and sanitation. These everyday needs were difficult to come by. Without proper access to water, people relied on unprotected springs and rivers. We were also living in a tent with no toilet, and no financial means to build one. This led to poor hygiene conditions, with open defecation resulting in repeated diarrhoea for children, outbreaks of cholera and, ultimately, high death rates.
People couldn’t access food if they didn’t have any income or any land, but finding a job was hard, and we had no land. With no school facilities, the idea of being able to access formal educations also seemed like it might never be possible. The lack of WASH services created other social problems which had long term negative impacts. Most of the children at the camp did not attend school because they were often responsible for fetching water, from very long distances. This also brought risks, as refugees are often seen by locals as competitors for natural resources, including water.
Between 1994 and 1996, GOAL arrived at the camp and supplied water and built toilets. It is true to say that this intervention by GOAL saved both me, and my family. Had GOAL not built public toilets, I think I probably would have died from poor hygiene conditions. I guess you could say GOAL saved me. The organisation helped me survive the harsh life of being a refugee. My mother, who has sadly now passed away, started working for GOAL in the camp, some general work, as a facilitator, so I took a special interest in GOAL and the work it was doing. I used to watch my mother work with them (GOAL). I watched GOAL WASH members of staff work in the camp. I also watched the people who provide my brothers and sisters and I with clean water go about their daily work.
After spending almost two years without being able to attend school, I finally got the opportunity to attend one in another camp, that was close to where my family and I were staying. My family and I later returned to Rwanda. In 2011, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Rwanda. I would later go on to complete a master’s in environmental science, Environmental Planning and Management, at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Educations in the Netherlands, before beginning my career in development and in the WASH area.
I have been working with GOAL for more than a year. My choice of career, the area in which I work, was inspired by the work of GOAL. I am proud to say I am now a WASH Country Program Coordinator for GOAL in Sierra Leone. This sector is my area of specialisation. I guess you could say I am a true GOAL success story. I survived. Now, I feel it’s time to give back…. It’s very rewarding for me to give back, and to help marginalized communities and those most in need, especially including those living in refugee camps. GOAL’s emergency WASH intervention saved my life as a boy. I too, hope to make a difference to the many lives of those most in need.