The Survival Sketchbook: Nearly 20 Years After the Genocide, Illustrator Victor Juhasz Travels to Rwanda

Here are his drawings

Foundation Rwanda Bike Build

Here, Foundation Rwanda students assist in unwrapping bicycle parts before the build. Because the bicycles arrived unassembled, down to the smallest bolt, expert Rwandan mechanics from the village were needed to oversee the build. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)

When Victor Juhasz touched down at Kigali International Airport last month, he knew he was a long way from home. “There was none of the paranoia and hypervigilance that we have become accustomed to,” the Observer illustrator said of Rwanda’s relatively lax security. “Kids were roaming in and out of the taped-off areas, playing around.”

Over the next seven days, traveling along the rolling green countryside that surrounds Rwanda’s capital, Mr. Juhasz would continue to embrace the unfamiliar as he documented a bike-building mission organized by Foundation Rwanda, an aid group founded by photojournalist Jonathan Torgovnik and filmmaker Jules Shell whose goals include funding education for children born of rape during the 1994 genocide, which claimed approximately 800,000 lives in just 100 days.

Bicycles play a particularly vital role for these rural children, who live far from schools and simple amenities, like potable water, but aren’t considered “survivors” of the genocide and therefore do not qualify for government-subsidized education. A bicycle can shorten the long commute to school—sometimes up to four hours by foot—help carry food and supplies to one’s family, transport loved ones to the hospital or generate income as a “bike taxi.”

No stranger to embedded journalism, Mr. Juhasz did his best to fit in with the locals over the course of his trip, even learning a few phrases in the native language, Kinyarwanda.

“Just saying, ‘How are you,’ ‘Amakuru,’ the smiles would go from ear to ear,” he said. “There would be a sudden clasping of your hand. There would be a hand to their chest. Some sort of trust had been established.”

Mr. Juhasz was also frequently greeted by a shy friendliness, he said, which “made it seem all the more surreal to try to think of something so horrible that happened almost 20 years ago.”

The timing of this trip was not insignificant and not just because of the upcoming anniversary. Rwanda has entered an era of relative political stability in the intervening decades, with a burgeoning economy, lowered poverty and maternal and infant mortality rates, and near-universal health care. But Rwanda still bears the genocide’s scars. Women who were brutalized by Hutu militiamen during the mass killing of the Tutsi minority suffer largely in silence, shunned and isolated in their communities, with complicated feelings toward the unwanted children who serve as a daily reminder of the attacks.

This heartbreaking reality was summarized perfectly by one woman, who spoke with Mr. Torgovnik: “I love [my second daughter] only now that I am beginning to appreciate that even she is my daughter,” she said. “Slowly I am beginning to appreciate that this other one is innocent.”

Indeed, emotional and physical fallout from the genocide can be seen in many unexpected places, as Mr. Juhasz experienced one day after the bike build, when 25 women and children gathered at a compound in Rwamagana, an hour from the capital, for HIV testing and a support-group session.

As the illustrator entered the compound, he could hear the women singing. To his surprise, the song was familiar. It was a prayer: “Hallelujah.”

Herein, a look at Mr. Juhasz’s journey, through the eyes of the artist. —Rebecca Hiscott

To learn more, visit foundationrwanda.org.

Foundation Rwanda Bike Build

A single bike costs on average $125 and helps five to 10 people in a village have access to water, food, school, medical treatment and jobs. What’s more, VictorJuhasz noticed how having a bicycle can instantly elevate a child’s status
in his or her village. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)

Foundation Rwanda

Known as “the land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda’s countryside is famously difficult to traverse. Foundation Rwanda identified a number of students living in remote rural areas, several hours away from their schools, who would most benefit from having a bicycle. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)

Foundation Rwanda Bike Build

The child known as Boy received a bicycle in 2010, which helped improve
his relationship with his mother. She has since remarried, and her
physical condition—handicaps received from beatings she endured
during the genocide—is improving. She also now earns an income
sewing textiles. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)

Foundation Rwanda Bike Build

The child pictured here (who is actually 18 but looks younger due to malnourishment) never received a name and is referred to in his community simply as Boy. In 2007, his mother told Mr. Torgovnik, “I feel trauma every time I look at this boy, because I don’t know who is father is, and I don’t know how I am going to live with a boy who has no family.” (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)

Foundation Rwanda HIV Testing

An estimated 100,000 to 500,000 rapes were committed during the genocide, leaving many mothers struggling with the legacy of HIV/AIDS. Victims have been shunned by their communities and even by their family members, which is why so many women
refuse to undergo HIV testing, preferring not to know their status. During Foundation Rwanda’s HIV testing, three mothers and one child learned that
they were HIV-positive. (Illustration by Victor Juhasz.)