I met Aline in Rwanda in 2013, since then I have been honoured to have the chance to get to know her better, call her a friend and consider her family. She is one of the most caring, intelligent, strong and resilient women I have ever met. She loves her children and those closest to her with a fierce passion and would do anything for them. She teaches those around her to be kind and care for others. No matter how little you have, you always have enough to help someone who needs it. Aline has agreed to share her story with us and I hope she inspires you to be your best self as well.
Hi, my name is Aline Mukabalisa. Although I am Rwandan, I was born and spent my formative years in Burundi where my parents had fled and sought refuge during the genocide of 1959 perpetuated on the Tutsi people in my country. My father was a devoted medical assistant and spent the majority of his time at the local hospital where I would sometimes accompany him to watch him work from the hallway and dream of following in his footsteps. My mother who worked at home caring for her ten children, was also known as the den mother since she fed the poor children who came to our door. Life was good, our parents kept us safe and provided a strong spiritual life where we learned to appreciate what we had and realize that everybody wasn’t as blessed as we were.
Two genocides later, we returned to Rwanda in the fall of 1994 where I finished high school and attended the Kigali University to study medicine and later psychology. I guess my choice was influenced by my father, but also by the strong desire that I felt to help people. When I was six years old or so, a lady named Marthe who lived a few doors down from us would take in elderly people and care for them; what she did fascinated me and stayed with me to this day. Although caring for the elderly is only a small facet of my ministry to the poor today, it is still one of my favorite and I still dream of opening a house for this purpose someday.
My professional life started with a job caring for HIV/AIDS patients amongst the military population of Rwanda with Drew Care International. I married and had three children, life had its ups and downs, but I always found time do some charity work with my church until my husband left me and the kids at the same time that my work contract ended, leaving me jobless and broke on the down side of life. I spent much time soul searching and job searching, when an opportunity to work with ICAP, a US based NGO, on a project to set up care centers for the victims of gender based violence came up. This position led me to the Gisenyi hospital on the Congo border where I opened and managed the SGBV program. I had always found time and opportunities to help people in need, even during hard times after my divorce, but lacked organization and the means to do it full scale until I met someone who would change my life and mentor me in my lifelong dream of helping the least of us.
Five years ago while working at the Gisenyi hospital, I met an American man who worked at the hospital caring for the poor with his NGO. One day I approached him and asked if he was hiring since my calling was for the poor, he looked at me and said with a smile “we don’t work ma’am, we care for others…for free”, I was taken aback and asked again if I could volunteer adding that I had medical skills and experience, once more he smiled and said “great, but do you have the heart? Skills can be acquired, a heart cannot”; I was perplexed, are all Americans like this? As he left he turned around and said “we are feeding people tonight, you want to help? Show up at eight”.
What I found at eight o’clock was different than I expected, it was more than just feeding, so much more than I anticipated. Spending time with patients, talking to them, washing them, giving medical care, praying and of course feeding. I knew then that my life was about to change in ways I could not imagine. While caring for an elderly lady during one of my first nights, my mentor bent down over me and said “Matthew 25:40”, “if you can feel it in the deepest part of your heart, then you have what it takes”; what you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me. I knew the Bible verse well, but never realized that it could change the life of a person as it did him and eventually mine. During the following years I learned to use my heart and skills in different ways, I quit my job to devote my time to the organization, I gave up my apartment since I no longer had a salary and moved in with the rest of the team members and received room and board. My job was no longer 8 to 5 five days a week, it was 24/7, in fact it was not a job at all, but a way of life. Spending nights with dying patients and caring for their remains before burying them the next day, skipping meals to feed others, building houses for the homeless and of course feeding; over a hundred people a day every day. I learned to find joy in sadness, compassion in misery and forgiveness in the face of evil. I felt it in the deepest part of my heart and I was ready to live my life based on Matthew 25:40
By 2012 a Rwandan version of the organization was created, GBTC Rwanda and I was responsible for the creation and management of its programs. Daily feeding of the poor at the hospital, purchase of medical cards, financial assistance for medical care, housing of the homeless in a nearby village, livestock giving program, palliative care and SGBV counseling and care. Thanks to the financial support of people all over the world, we were able to reach hundreds of people daily in one way or another and make a difference in their lives. I was what I did and what I did made me who I am today simply because I learned to see Christ in the eyes of the people I met. The following years brought me to serve not only the poor in Rwanda, but also in other African countries; Congo, Togo, Burundi and Cameroon where I spend most of the year 2015 working with HIV/AIDS patients and SGBV survivors in a remote areas in the bush.
A single verse from the Bible spoken to me by a stranger inspired me to quit everything and serve others. Every day I remind myself that I am not working for financial gain, that bringing a smile to a suffering person is the biggest reward I can get and that I always have enough to share with others. My rewards are many, watching my daughter Amanda create GBTC YOUTH and care for poor children along with her brothers, finding bananas at my doorstep as a gesture of gratitude from someone we helped and watching people grow out of poverty because we cared are just a few. What we do can also be dangerous at times, we have worked in rebel held territories and our lives have been threaten more than once, we have been exposed to dangerous viruses and some of us have been stuck with infected needles requiring post exposure treatment, but in the end we don’t mind, it is what we do and we accept it. Caring is a challenge, it takes a heavy toll on you both physically and emotionally.
My advice to anyone wanting to volunteer to serve the poor is to look into their heart. Whether out of faith or humanity, you have to feel it. You have to be prepared to accept failure, every starving child or person will not survive and live happily ever after. You have to think long term, helping someone today and letting them die tomorrow is not helping, everything you do has dire consequences, but doing nothing has the worse consequence of all.
While funding dwindled over the last two years, the scope of our work has diminished, but not ceased. We are still grateful for what we have and the opportunity to care for others who need more than we do. We know that our work will continue and intensify over time, we have faith. Through difficult times the lesson we learn is not to give up, but to believe. After all, God gave us the freedom to choose.
To Support Go Beyond the Cross Rwanda click here