An incredible journey

Olive Okobasingiza was five when a militant shot her in the arm during the genocide. Today she’s a Paralympic athlete. Find out VSO volunteer Nic Clark’s part in her incredible story here.

An unimaginable horror

In the spring of 1994, five year-old Olive Okobasingiza was playing outside her house, when a militant opened fire on her family. Her mother and brother were killed, her sister was injured and she was shot in the arm.

Olive doesn’t know what happened to her father, as he wasn’t with them that day, but she never saw him again.

Found by soldiers, she and her sister were taken to a hospital, where doctors amputated her arm. With Rwanda in the grips of a genocide that would kill 800,000 people in three months, the two girls were alone and terrified. “I had lost everything,” she says.

Two miraculous discoveries!

Sixteen years later and it’s fair to say Olive has come a long way. In fact she’s been all the way to Greece. She’s also planning to go to India in September, and to travel to the UK in 2012. Because Olive is now a Paralympian. Or to be more exact – Rwanda’s first ever female Paralympian.

After that fateful day in 1994 Olive and her sister were taken to an orphanage, where they remained until peace was restored. They were then found by an aunt who had fled across the border into Tanzania during the fighting, and have lived with her ever since.

It wasn’t long after, that somebody spotted her running around with friends, and told her she could be an athlete. “They said I had the height of someone who can run,” she explains. “And that if I tried I could be an athlete.”

Challenging preconceptions

It was difficult to believe. In a country where nine out of 10 people are subsistence farmers, disability is seen as a curse that stops individuals making a contribution to their family, meaning many disabled people are made to feel useless. But Olive refused to conform to this. She began training, and at the age of just 15 represented her country in the 200 metres at the Paralympic Games.

“People are amazed by me – they are amazed a disabled girl plays sport! she says. “And that I represent our country! I tell people that being disabled does not mean you are not capable of doing anything.”

Support from the National Paralympic Committee and VSO volunteer Nic

Unsurprisingly Olive has become a role model for girls with disabilities in Rwanda. She is keen to get as many involved in sport as possible, which she is able to do through The National Paralympic Committee of Rwanda, an organisation which not only supports international athletes like her with training and travel expenses for big competitions, but also promotes disability sports at a grass roots level across the country.

With VSO volunteer Nic Clark now working to help strengthen the management at NPC, the president plans to increase its funding. This means it can continue to support Olive, and enable more young people with disabilities to discover that like her they are capable of great things.

 “Growing up with a disability is hard.,” she says. “You don’t have self-esteem. One thing I tell young people is not to look down at themselves and just to take that risk of trying to do something.” It’s a motto we could all learn a lot from. Olive has indeed come a long, long way since 1994 – and she’s still just 21!

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