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Charlotte Charité

Portrait photos of Charlotte Charité
© Chris Schwagga for Goethe-Institut Kigali

Charlotte Charité, a mother, widow and discreet woman with a fierce determination for autonomy, especially for women.

When we talk about family in front of Charité, she smiles but quickly becomes serious to say, “It’s a very important concept to evoke it in a short time, especially as we in Rwanda, talking about family is like talking about what many are still crying for”. It asks you if you are willing to take the necessary time, before continuing without stopping.

I love family, that’s what sums up my life. The family, this gift that the violent history of Rwanda snatched from me. I have a certain idea of it, and I have an idea of what family happiness is. First of all because I grew up in my family, which serves as a reference point for me and, even if it was brief, I experienced the happiness of a family home that I had built with my late husband.

The family is first of all parents and children, then the closest relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins, especially when you are lucky enough to live together. The family is the place where love is forged and given, the love that a child receives in the family protects him/her, makes him/her strong, gives him/her confidence in life. Beyond the names of my brothers and sisters, on which my father conjugated the verb to love in all tenses and in several languages[1], my father’s driving force was love. For me, therefore, the family is love, the love of parents for their children, and the love of children for each other, and for their parents.

Even before getting married, long before wealth or a shelter, I wanted to have a husband who had a lot of love, not only for me, but also for my family, and that my family loved him, and found him worthy of the love of all of us. I couldn’t imagine loving a man that my family wouldn’t like. I was given the chance in the beginning, and my late husband was immediately delighted by my family long before he saw me as a future wife to love.

On my family’s side, things happened like that too, since we used to receive people who passed by our house, spoiling them (refreshments, discussions, meals and sometimes, songs and dances, that’s how it was in our house), my parents liked these visitors that Imana would send to our house. From the first day of our lives, I did everything I could to ensure that the atmosphere was as favourable as possible to this image I had of the family, with love at the centre.

Religion is very important in my life. I have always lived with this need to get closer to God, whatever the church (Catholic or newer versions), it has never caused the slightest tension in my family. We share Imana, and the values related to Him are values that emphasise love.

My husband was killed during the genocide, and we had a one-year-old child. I had to hide with this baby. A good man, Gisimba Damascus, opened his orphanage for us, and I survived with my baby. I immediately started working in this orphanage, and there too, I tried first and foremost to give love to these children who no longer had parents. If I was sad with my baby who had just lost his father before really knowing him, I knew that at least he had a mother. This forced me not to dwell on my own case very much. I was deeply involved in the work at the orphanage, aware of the fact that these children would never have a family. Whose fault is it? Adults, of which I am. It’s a disaster to think about our responsibility.

Sometimes I think about the family that my son could create. He is 27 years old, and he might tell me the news soon. Therefore, let me tell you that my first wish is in the same words as for me “a woman who will love him, and love his family, a woman that we will all love, and become one of us”! This country has been devastated. The absence of families killed or destroyed by issues you know. This is a long term issue. I wonder how we are going to get out of it. Lacking a family is somehow to miss the starting point.

Thank you for thinking about this survey, and for coming to ask us modest people. We don’t have academic knowledge to share, but we’ve lived our experiences, and we carry them in the depths of our beings. Therefore, sharing them seems useful to me.

[1] Names have been given, and they confirm the assertion, but we have not deemed it useful to reproduce them here, out of respect for those not interviewed.