Saving Banamungu

By Saving Banamungu • August 18, 2016

When I heard that Kimmy, my lecturer friend from my days at Holistic counseling College was looking for volunteers to accompany her on a mission of mercy trip to Rwanda, I rang her and put my name forward the first chance I got. Having always had a hankering to visit Africa, I saw this as an ideal opportunity to do so and assist in some good works at the same time. Kimmy had been to Rwanda twice before. Firstly on a holiday to see the mountain gorillas and the next using her skills as a clay therapist to set up a practice attempting to ease the terrible mental trauma that practically all Rwandans still carry from memories of the bloody genocide carried out there in 1994. The second trip had been very successful and this time she was planning to take a small group with her to teach clay therapy to a hundred and sixty pyschology students at the University of Rwanda in Buture.

Clay therapy is normally used to analyse children and less articulate adults suffering from problems involving the mind. It works by giving the patient a piece of clay and asking them to make something out of it. It is not necessary to be good at pottery or even artistic at all as whatever shapes and forms the patient creates are then analysed with a view to discovering the underlying problem. In Rwanda, she found that trauma sufferers, after making a shape they were satisfied with, found it much easier to discuss their mental agonies. Usually the recollections are so painful, they cannot bring themselves to speak of it and normal counseling always ended in floods of tears. Kimmy had brought a very real relief to them in this way and her efforts were very much appreciated.

The team of five; Kimmy, Leah, Kasia, Anita and myself, were all trained in clay therapy and although I had never actually practiced it, I went along as an assistant and photographer to record the whole event. The sixth member of the team, Banamungu, a big-hearted Rwandan Rastaman and musician, was already there and it was he who had first introduced Kimmy to the largely unspoken of legacy the soldiers of the genocide left behind. Himself having lost his mother and stepfather in the wholesale killing. Before they begun the ten month long massacre, which claimed around a million lives, mostly by machette, the soldiers were infected with AIDS and raped as many women and girls as they could. As far as atrocities go, the Rwanda genocide would be pretty hard to beat. Rwanda has orphanages filled with children born with AIDS and Banamungu often helped out and entertained the children with his songs and dancing.

He and I soon became firm friends and being a musician myself, we were soon writing songs together and even doing a few gigs here and there. He had devoted his life thus far to helping his fellow Rwandans and it had often occurred to me that maybe he had never entertained a bad thought in his entire life. His name, Banamungu, meaning 'child of God' in Swahili, couldn't have been more appropriate. Forgiveness and getting his people back on their feet as best they can being always uppermost in his noble mind.

On a previous visit, Kimmy had tried to get Banamungu a visa to visit Australia in order to be trained at holistic college himself, but for reasons I don't have details of, it is almost impossible for East Africans to be granted Australian visas and her first attempt was turned down flat.

After the girls returned home I decided to stay on for a few months longer. Being much impressed with this thoroughly decent man's selfless devotion to his fellow countrymen, I decided I would do all I could to get him out of the country for a little while. Possibly into Australia to learn what he needed to know and give him a well-deserved break. Being an entertainer, he had sung and played in restaurants and bars all over the place and we went around collecting references in order to assist his application. Many testimonials to his good works were also available and I had high hopes that this time he may be actually be granted a visa. To come to Australia and learn all about clay therapy and it's application would benefit he and his people enormously and I hoped the Australian government would see things the same.

While we were there, an unreported war broke out between Rwanda and the Congo and their government began a ruthless recruiting campaign that involves simply snatching able-bodied men off the street, giving them a gun and a uniform and sending them straight to the front line. With this in mind, I decided it was vital I at least try to get him out of there for the three months a visa would grant him, should I be able. Soon after that, he and I traveled to Nairobi in Kenya via Uganda to visit the Australian consulate there; the nearest one to Rwanda.

Our main problem was money. To grant a three month visa, the Australian government wanted him to possess $6000. $500 for each week he would be there. They might as well have called it a $1000000 as far as he was concerned. Rwanda is a very poor country and it is reflected quite obviously in it's mainly mud hut-dwelling population. The best we could scrape up was $1500 and all we could do was hope they would grant him perhaps 3 weeks, which was better than nothing. We delivered the documents in person and understood we had to call back in three weeks for their decision. However, after we passed the time hanging around Nairobi and other nearby towns, they sent him an SMS stating that not only had they given him a visa, they had granted him one for three months, despite his lack of funds. Obviously, his glowing references had touched the hearts of the right people.

When we finally arrived in Australia, a chance meeting with a fellow Rwandan inspired him to visit a Rwandan barrister who secured him a two-year stay and a work permit on the grounds of Rwanda's ruthless army recruiting policies. Something the Australian government must have been aware of to grant him such mercy. For Banamungu, it was little short of a miracle.

Taking advantage of all that Australia offered him, he has attended college and worked very hard to improve his lot, establishing a new life in a land of plenty, as opposed to the abject poverty and iron rule of his homeland. He has also met the love of his life. One day he hopes to return to his homeland, but obviously when more peaceful circumstances are in place.

Having devoted his life to the aid and welfare of others, this noble fellow was at last getting his karmic reward. Something his own land, as it currently is anyway, could never award him and I, myself, am just so glad to have been party to it.

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