The Rwandan genocide ended in 1994, but pockets of resistance still lingered for years. In 1999, a fifteen-year-old Rwandan boy, Frederick Ndabaramiye, was dragged from a bus and brutally attacked by Interahamwe rebels. When he refused to kill 18 fellow passengers, the rebels hacked off Frederick’s hands with machetes and left him for dead.
After a year in the hospital, Frederick was placed at the Imbabazi, an orphanage started by American expatriate Rosamond Carr in the aftermath of the genocide. Most of Frederick’s family had been slaughtered and his mother, who survived, did not have the resources to care for him after he lost both of his hands. Frederick met Zacharie Dusingizimana, a young teacher, at the orphanage.
Not willing to remain captive to hate and anger, Frederick and Zacharie turned toward forgiveness and action. Feeling lucky to be alive, they wanted to help those like themselves. Partially due to the genocide, Rwanda has a disproportionate number of physically and mentally disabled people and most are only able to beg in the street.
With the support of the Columbus Zoo’s Partners In Conservation and Jack Hanna, Frederick and Zacharie founded the Ubumwe Community Center as a place where these people are given alternatives, where they can be educated, receive skills training, and ultimately generate a sustainable income for themselves and their families.
Today Frederick and Zacharie speak internationally and are mentors to young people everywhere. They teach that a disability of spirit is far worse than a disability of the body. Frederick models his triumph over physical limitations through his painting, his love of life, and his fearlessness.