To be an artist without hands is a great accomplishment.
To overcome hate is greater.
To heal body and spirit of those injured by hatred and indifference is perhaps greater still.
Frederick Ndabaramiye embodies all three.
In 100 days of horror, 800,000 Rwandans died at the hands of their neighbors and countrymen.
The violence abated as the world belatedly took notice in 1994, but continued sporadically for years. In 1998, a bus carrying a 15-year-old boy and 18 other passengers was stopped by Interahamwe rebels.
The boy, Frederick Ndabaramiye, was ordered to kill the others. He refused, and in retaliation and to make an example, his hands were chopped off with a machete after his fellow travelers were, one by one, hacked to death before his eyes.
By what he calls a miracle, Frederick survived, spent a year recovering in a hospital, then was moved to the Imbabazi orphanage, where he learned to overcome obstacles and frustrations to retake control of his life.
“I started painting in 1999, when I was living in the orphanage,” he said in an interview Thursday. “At that time I had just learned to do things on my own. Painting was somehow healing. It helped me to recover.”
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He continues to be a prolific artist, producing vivid scenes of life in rural Africa. “I paint what I know. What I remember,” he said. “I have so many memories. I won’t run out soon.”
His paintings reflect the joy of life. A joy he recaptured as he let go of anger and embraced forgiveness.
On that journey of forgiveness, long and hard, he was joined by his friend and mentor Zachary Dusingizimana. Determined to help others to a better life, in 2005 they founded the Ubumwe Community Center to help adults and children living with disabilities to learn life skills, master basic education, and help them back into the mainstream of life.
Frederick is also founder and guiding spirit of the I am Able handicapped cycling team, taking the message of Ubumwe and self reliance on the road on two wheels and giving its name to the documentary film telling Frederick Ndabaramiye’s story.