At the inaugural Alumni Honors event in Beverly Hills, CA, we paid tribute to three past World of Children Honorees. Jessica Markowitz, Triveni Acharya and Ricardo Bennun have proven their ability to leverage their original awards far beyond what we could have anticipated – delivering even more profound impact for children.
We created short vignettes for Triveni and Ricardo to introduce them to the crowd in Beverly Hills. Grace Umutesi introduced Jessica and shared her personal story of survival and education in Rwanda. Now, we want to share these stories with you.
First honored in 2013 with the Humanitarian Award
Founder of Rescue Foundation
First honored in 2007 with the Health Award
Founder of Asociación PIEL
Jessica was first honored in 2009 with the Youth Award
Founder of Richards’ Rwanda IMPUHWE
Grace Umutesi was a student in Jessica’s program. She introduced Jessica at the event and shared this inspiring story with our guests in Beverly Hills:
“I was born just 2 days before the Rwandan Genocide started. My family was hunted down, they were looking to wipe us out.
To this day I don’t know what happened to most of my family. My aunt explained to me since I was just a few days old when my Mother passed away she took care of me and has raised me. I do wish I could have known my mom. My aunt became my only family. The majority of the people in our village were killed but with the chaos we just don’t know where and when our family was slaughtered. Auntie was sure we were going to die but somehow we made it!
Life was not easy for my aunt, she had the burden of taking care of me. We were homeless. The genocide had darkened everything, all houses were destroyed and we would roam into any garden we could find for food to eat. When I was ready to enroll in school the cost for primary school was about one dollar fifty cents and we had no means at all. My auntie lived off of less than a dollar a day.
When I wanted to attend school auntie decided to see if they would make an exception and let me stay without paying. Well that was a horrible moment for me because they literally chased me from the school and I ran home crying. I decided school was not for me because I was simply a poor girl…way too poor. I finally gave up. I was heartbroken! Eventually I became very determined and found the courage once again to try and become a student and a miracle happened. A teacher walked into class asking certain students to stand up and they called my name. I was petrified because I was sure they were going to send me home once again. But instead I was surprised to hear that I would receive a sponsor to pay my school fees, uniform and my medical insurance. Could this really be true? And then I saw Jessica and her mama Lori in the village.
Jessica was just a young girl like me, she was white, a “Muzungu”. I did not speak English, the only thing I knew was “how are you Muzungu”? I will never forget that day, it was truly like a dream come true.
From 2006 Jessica has been part of our lives in the village and 39 other girls just like me got to go to school thanks to her. I have never been chased from school again! I studied hard in school and became one of the top students in my class. I was very happy because my auntie didn’t have to worry and I could even eat lunch at school and go to the doctor since I had an insurance card.
Finally, I was not alone!
I never dreamed I would become the strong person I have become today. Jessica’s support is why I can stand tall and be proud of becoming a strong powerful woman. Later I found out that World of Children was behind Jessica.
She not only supported me financially but most importantly, emotionally. We have become sisters, bonded forever and I can never forget how she made my life meaningful. She empowered and inspired me to be a strong leader and I will always love and cherish our relationship just as World of Children powered her to continue her work.
Thank you World of Children, I love you. And now I want to introduce the person who changed my life forever, and who I love like a sister, Jessica Markowitz”