RWANDA’S GENOCIDE SURVIVOR, CLAIRE KAREKEZI TO BECOME FIRST AND ONLY FEMALE NEUROSURGEON IN HER COUNTRY
Just like the case of Claire Karekezi, who is about to become Rwanda’s first and only female Neurosurgeon, every individual has a place to fill in the world and sometimes we are led through the path created by destiny to fulfil our course. With a childhood surrounded by horror and tragedy, Karekezi was one of the few people who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that took the lives of 800,000 people. After witnessing this, she realised at a young age that is was risky to count on anyone to help her fulfil her dreams because according to her, ‘ the whole world was watching and no one did anything’.
In 1994, I was 10 years old … so I experienced the genocide as a growing kid. Everyone had to get out, people were being killed on the roads. I always tell people that that’s what sort of made us who we are today as Rwandese people because we grew up knowing that we cannot count on anyone but ourselves. So this kind of spirit kept me going, to do whatever it takes to get where I want to go. I keep pushing because the genocide happened, the whole world was watching and no one did anything. But we came through that, we are a strong nation, and we have very brave people who have managed to do impressive things now.
Her journey in medicine started in 2001 when she was awarded a full government scholarship as an outstanding student to study medicine at the University of Rwanda in Butare, the city where she was born. She was later accepted as an exchange student to study at the University of Linkoping in Sweden in 2007 through the International Federation of Medical Students and it was at this point she had a major contact with destiny. Karekezi who hoped to study radiology at the exchange program discovered that the only department in operation was neurosurgery an area of medicine she never considered. But as a young girl from Rwanda where most of its citizens are considered brave, she accepted to study in this field because she was sure her guiding star had other notions and there was no doubt that her guiding star ever left her as she shone throughout this program and further gained admission for a short neurosurgery program at Oxford University in the U.K . Not stopping there, she began emailing the head of Rabat Reference Center for Training Young African Neurosurgeons in Morocco, seeking a spot in the program that had been set up under the auspices of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies where she spent 5 years and was named chief resident in her final year. Even with all these, her guiding star wasn’t done yet; she received a Women in Neurosurgery award by Dr Mark Bernstein an authority in this field who acknowledged her determination and hard work.
It just seemed she had what it takes, she seemed to be sharp and very dedicated and committed. She had been through a lot to get where she is, and that struck me as well. Dr Mark Bernstein said
Finally, Karekezi who is fluent in French, English, Rwandan, Swahili and has a little knowledge in Arabic says her dream is to collaborate with her four male neurosurgeon colleagues towards developing a multidisciplinary neuro-oncology centre which would serve her country’s 12 million population when she returns to her country sometime in July.