Boy on a Bike: How a Rwandan Teen Overcame a Legacy of Genocide

Far from home, in a war-torn land, a charity worker met a child who had every reason to hate—and yet taught volumes about love.

By Steve Madden from Reader's Digest | April 2012

Rwandan Genocide PerpetratorsCourtesy Stephen MaddenPerpetrators of the genocide

The boy, like the other children here, was born of rape. His mother, a member of the Tutsi tribe, was raped during the 1994 Hutu genocide that slaughtered some one million Rwandans. Raped by a gang of militia who killed her three brothers, she considered an abortion but bore the child. In tribal Rwanda, however, she wore the birth like a scarlet letter, victimized twice as she suffered the brutal crime, then was rejected by her own deeply conservative family. Is it any wonder she couldn’t bring herself to properly name him? Bad enough she should have the daily reminder of the horror she suffered. “I care for him, but I can’t love him,” she told Jonathan Torgovnik, in 2007, when he and Jules started Foundation Rwanda. “I am not interested in a family. I am not interested in love. I am physically handicapped because of the beatings that I went through—I can’t carry anything. I can’t work. It’s good I didn’t kill that boy, because now he fetches water for me.” Jules says she thinks his diminutive size is most likely the result of malnutrition.

As we eat, a chain gang of convicts in bright jumpsuits walks by the compound, shovels and pickaxes in hand. They are convicted murderers, the perpetrators of the genocide. They walk by their victims twice a day. Some of the convicts jeer.

After lunch, I can’t look at the boy in the same way. I just can’t reconcile the horror of his conception and life, utterly without love, with his sunny countenance and sweet demeanor, his exuberance. This child has every reason to hate yet greets the world with love. I think of my own children, who get everything by simply asking for it. Everything except love, that is. That they don’t have to ask for; they automatically receive it and return it. What would this kid’s life be like if he were loved the way Kit, Chris, and Luke are?

  • Your Comments

    • Andrea

      This story touched a cord. I was moved by the story, by the mother and the boy, to be alive after so much pain, decide to give birth, and then to care for the boy but cannot love him. Talk about a paradox! I wept while reading the story. The soul of the boy and his life can teach the human spirit the need to excite in spite of the conditions. I am in awe.

    • Cherry Blossom

      I am so touched by Jean-Paul’s story. I wish I could send him a Christmas gift. How can I do that?