FUKUSHIMA — After staying here for more than two years since fleeing from their war-stricken country, a Rwandan mother and her children boarded a plane Mar. 25 for their home country.

Marie Louise Kambenga, 31, and her family, the first Rwandans from a refugee camp to enter Japan, had lived in Fukushima since December 1994. They were supported by a citizens’ group in this Tohoku region city that arranged for student visas and eventually a private college for her and her husband, Apollinaire Baziramwabo, who will continue studying in Japan for another year. “I need but cannot find a better expression than ‘thank you’ to express my gratitude. With lots of memories of your kindness, I will do my best in Rwanda to help reconstruct my country,” she said in fluent Japanese to members of the family’s support group at a farewell gathering Mar. 23.

Toru Takeda, representative of the 150-member group, said he felt relieved because the group accomplished its primary task, that is, enabling the family to return to Rwanda, where their destination, the capital Kigali, has been declared safe. “But we will continue helping Marie Louise to realize her dream of creating more schools in Rwanda,” said Takeda, a 55-year-old English teacher at a high school.

Marie Louise said during her stay that education is the foundation of a nation and is also essential to create peace. “We are very happy that our activities, which originally started with only a dozen people aimed at helping a single family, have developed into something that will involve more and more people both in Fukushima and Rwanda,” group member Nobuko Sekiba said. “One small seed has produced fruit,” said Tomio Hishinuma, another member.

Marie Louise first came to Japan to study dressmaking in April 1993 as a foreign student sponsored by the Fukushima Prefectural Government. She returned to Rwanda in January 1994, only a few months before ethnic bloodshed erupted between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi clans. In April, she fled the genocide in Kigali with her husband and their three children. It was reported that up to 1 million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in the fighting.

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