Everyone has stories. Some stories are happy, some are sad, others are funny, informative, motivating and still others give us something we all need every day, hope. This is a story of hope.
Frederick Ndabaramiye is from Rwanda and we know each other only from emails, but we have a mutual friend in Jeff Ramsey at the Columbus Zoo. One day during the early months of the pandemic I found Frederick when I was searching for information about an orphanage that Roz Carr, an American woman who lived in Rwanda, started soon after the terrible genocide of 1994 (cover and bottom photo). Five years earlier I traveled to Rwanda on an East Africa safari to see the mountain gorillas that Dian Fossey dedicated her life to. At the time I was hoping to find a way to get involved in supporting her work, but that would not come until 14 years later. Little did I know that only five years after my first trip in 1989 violence in the country would shock the world as members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people.
After moving to El Paso and becoming the Education Curator at the Zoo I met Clare Richardson of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund at a Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conference in Fort Worth. We talked about how I wanted to do something to help the mountain gorillas and soon I found myself on a plane to Rwanda. I eventually decided to write a guide book to the land of Fossey’s gorillas, the first ever book focused on mountain gorilla tourism and the natural history of the protected area where they lived at Volcanoes National Park.
It was on that trip in 2003 that I met Roz Carr. We were introduced by Dr. Katie Fawcett, who at the time was the Director of the Karisoke Research Center. Later in my book I wrote “when we met I sensed having the unique opportunity of not only meeting one of the greatest ladies Rwanda has ever known, but also someone who shared the commitment and spirit of Dian Fossey, two American women living in Rwanda who gave their lives to something much greater than themselves.”
Roz Carr’s full name was Rosamond Halsey Carr. One June afternoon in 2003 we met for tea in her living room, in the community of Gisenyi not far from the shores of Lake Kivu and the border crossing that linked the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Goma. I wanted to meet Roz because she was a friend of Dian Fossey. If you saw the movie Gorilla’s in the Mist you may remember her character. I heard about the orphanage before I left for my trip and brought with me a sizable donation to help the orphans from a good friend of mine in California. I had also read Roz’s book Land of a Thousand Hills, My Life in Rwanda. The book is about the life of a truly beautiful person. I wish I could just sit down with her again and have tea. She was a jewel in the heart of darkness.
As I look back I am sure that that Roz Carr had an impact on my life because nearly 20 years later I am volunteering at a shelter for migrants struggling to find a better life here on the Mexican border, just a stone’s throw from the infamous border wall. After Frederick and I exchanged emails I promised him that I would tell his story. Today I live up to my promise.
Rick LoBello, April 7, 2021
Here is Frederick’s story. I hope that you will share it to the far corners of the planet.
My Story and the Rosamond Carr Legacy Project
My name is Frederick Ndabaramiye. I am 39 and married to Godelive Ayinkamiye. We have two children. Our first born is a girl called Ihirwe Humura Ora Gianna and she is two years and seven months now and a boy of one year three months called Ikuzo Bigwi Gabe. I was born in Rwanda, western province, Ngororero District. Now I live in Rubavu district, western province.
Up until I was fifteen I stayed with my family in Ngororero, but because of the insecurity that was here in Rwanda, one day I left home to go to my aunt’s home. Her husband was killed and unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to reach where I was supposed to go because of the Interahamwe (group of killers) who were hiding and waiting for people to kill. We were in a bus coming to Rubavu near the border where my aunt was staying. The Interahamwe stopped our bus in the Nyakiliba area (Rubavu), but all I remember was that it was on Tuesday. They took us from the bus and started killing everyone with arms tied behind their backs. When it was my turn to be killed the Interahamwe decided to bite me all over the body. Even today I have the signs that have never disappeared on my chest. They kept biting me the whole day and saying many insults. They gave me nothing to eat or drink and took off all of my clothes. The only thing I could say was please forgive me. The next day they cut off all my hands with big machetes. The machetes were not sharp so they had to cut repeating so many times as they kept biting me. They said if you do not die or are eaten by animals go as a messenger to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Inkotanyi), the ones who saved our country.
On that same day at around 6:00 pm I tried to move without knowing where I was going. I was breathing a lot when two women who were hiding somewhere saw me and saved me. They took me to their homes and tried to cover me with their clothes and made a fire for me to warm me up. I didn’t eat or drink anything because of the state I was in. In the morning they found an Army tank and called the soldiers in to come and save me. The soldiers took me to the Rubavu hospital where I spent 1 year and 6 months in a coma without someone to take care of me. God was with me all the time when I was not able to do anything. It was the hardest time, I was hopeless, but I survived. I may say that it was by God’s miracle who didn’t wish me to die on that day so that I could meet our lovely mum Roz Carr (may her soul keep resting in peace and I hope one day I meet her again).
After spending so much time at the hospital I met a woman who used to come to visit the hospital and found me. She felt sorry for me and approached me. I shared with her all about my unbelievable time I had and she became a friend. Soon she started to give me food and she told me about the kindest woman she knew called Roz and how she can be the only one who can willingly help me. She guided me where to pass and find her house. I spoke only Kinyarwanda so I needed someone to translate for me. In the early morning I walked to Roz’s home, but her house worker didn’t welcome me thinking I was coming to beg. While we were talking mum Roz heard us and told him to call me back here. When she saw me she was shocked and cried a lot. She felt my situation and took pictures of me. She asked one of the staff how they could help me and they told her to take me to another center, but that center was not safe. Roz took me to her car and went with me to that center, but the leader of Abadahogora Center when seeing me refused to welcome me. He asked me so many questions and Roz felt so sad because she found out how they were treating me and she decided to take me back to her orphanage.
I have early memories of coming to Imbabazi, the orphanage that Roz Carr created and how she cared for me. As soon as she saw me she hugged me, she was the first person who hugged me in my life. She welcomed me while others rejected me. She didn’t think that I was coming to beg as others did. She told the staff to call me back and meet her. She took me in and went with me to take care of me. She didn’t say go there they will do this, she came with me. She looked for someone to start helping me take a shower, find clothing and helping me with eating. I will always remember how good, lovely, kind and humble the only mother I ever knew was and how she gave me life again during a time when I thought my life was finished.
My life lessons as a result of living at Imbabazi are to always be humble, to live peacefully with others, to love and to take care of others, to always have hope of tomorrow whatever circumstances life gives us and to always smile, regardless of the challenges and to strive for life and be able to overcome. Now I am able. I was reborn when I was part of Roz’s life at Imbabazi. I reached there with nothing, but I when I left I was fully equipped for life.
When I met Roz my wounds were not totally healed and she helped in healing me totally. She first gave me médicine to stop infections and she helped me to go to America for a good surgery in 2002. She took care of everything and that was my first time to travel out of the country and go on an airplane. When I was in America I learned English and I saw my first computer and learned what it was about. I learned to be able to not keep on depending on others to shower me, to help me eat, or to cloth me. Roz was my encourager and she was always there for me and now I owe her my life.
Roz left me in good hands with a family and friends she connected me with. The heritage she gave me is what I am using to help others today at the Ubumwe Community Center where we are helping more than 1000 people.
Roz supported me and helped me to learn English that is helping to spread my message and to communicate with others today. It is a remarkable difference in my life because I can stand before the big congregation like the Rwanda Fete at the Columbus Zoo and feel confident of who I am today.
The work I am doing now I learned from Roz, to help others in need. I am helping my community and my country by supporting people with disabilities at the Ubumwe Community Center. More than 1000 people are benefiting from the fruits of the work we are doing. Imbabazi made me a new born person and I was healed inside and out.
I regained hope for living and now I am a married man. I have my own family, I found someone who loves me as I am who is kind and loving. I am seeing my kids being born and growing. In my culture many think that a person with a disability is useless. They look at people like me in shame, as a person who has no rights to choose, love or be happy. Even when someone like me finds someone to marry, they reject the normal person who marries a person with disability. This happened to my lovely wife, but I thank God that he was there too to strengthen her. Now we are happy with our two kids.
To find the real words to talk about or describe Roz Carr is very difficult. I always tell her that I miss her a lot and I pray that God blesses me to see her again in heaven. I pray that He will give me a chance to say thank you and that God will allow me to hug her again as the first person who hugged me in my life. I remember how she sacrificed her life because of us. She was young and so beautiful. She didn’t wish to leave us. She came to us to save us like Jesus, and I always say that she was an angel sent from heaven.
May your soul keep resting in peace my dear lovely mother, you will always be in my mind and I hope to see you and hug you and tell you the stories of my life. I know that you love the color pink and I will always choose to show you many different roses through different activities by honoring you and I am sure that where you are you see me and other friends who loved you.
Proposed idea for Roz Carr Legacy
Roz cared for all, but especially vulnerable persons. She fed the hungry, gave homes to homeless and supported children for their education. Here in our country we have many children who drop out of schools and others who do not plan to continue their studies in secondary schools because of lacking school fees. This number will increase because many families have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some families do not have a home to stay in and there are others who are even more vulnerable because of different disabilities and other illnesses. I discovered so many of these problems through my biking program where I bike to reach out to the vulnerable communities in rural areas. If you would like to help in any way you can contact me by email at email@example.com.
Donations to support Ubumwe Community Center can be made with the Columbus Zoo program Partners in Conservaton. Just choose “Ubumwe Community Center” in the “designation” box.
Photos courtesy of Frederick Ndabaramiye
Photo of Rosamond Halsey Carr courtesy of Dr. Alan Goodall, a former Director of the Karisoke Research Center.
Map from Guide to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park Home to critically endangered mountain gorillas by Rick LoBello, courtesy of National Geographic