“You call yourself the president, but you are killing people”, declared Mukarabe. Surprised and confused, Domitien Ndayizeye the then president of Burundi replied, “Who are you?” Mukarabe responded, “It does not matter who I am, what matters is the truth.” Who is Mukarabe Lysiane Makinto-Inandava? Mukarabe is a young fatherless girl who endured discrimination; a former refugee; a distinguished post graduate student from an American university; a pioneer who has worked with orphans, HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa; an agitator for justice; creator of hope for current refugees in Africa; and a warrior unafraid to confront presidents.
A woman of wonder, Mukarabe Lysiane Makinto-Inandava, a native of Burundi, immigrated to the United States in 1996 but has never forgotten her roots. With her husband George Makinto, they created the first Amahoro Life Center in Uganda which is composed of the Joyful House of Refuge (JHR), a housing facility, and self-sustaining businesses to equip and empower Burundian refugees living in Uganda.
Confronting injustice has been a lifelong passion for Mukarabe. Losing her father at three years old in Burundian culture meant society treated her family as orphans. The youngest of seven children, Mukarabe was often excluded by the children in her village and bullied by grown-ups with taunts, “You will never become somebody.” Frustrated and angry, she grew up hating her deceased father, her circumstances, God and the people who constantly reminded her of her fatherless state. She also hated herself, “I constantly felt like a victim.”
In Burundi, the tribal groups of Tutsis and Hutus were bitterly divided, yet Mukarabe’s mother, Immaculate, treated everyone equally and shared the scarce family food to all those in need regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. When Mukarabe was age 12, she came back from school and discovered that her mother had given away her special dress to someone in need. Her mother’s words uttered that day still ring in Mukarabe’s heart, “Where there is love even the skin of the flea can cover five people.” Over the years, Mukarabe’s disappearing clothes and shoes were a constant lesson of sacrificial love to those in need.
Mukarabe’s neighbors harshly reprimanded her dream to attend school. As a young child, she wondered, “Why do people keep telling me I can’t do this, I can’t do that?” With her mother’s encouragement, Mukarabe went to school and excelled. She recalls, “School was far away, I used to run to school barefooted on a rocky road. Once in class, I always sat in the first row so that I was not distracted; and I changed my name so that alphabetically, I would be called early.”
Being a brilliant high school student, she was accepted into the University of Burundi. Without Mukarabe’s knowledge or permission, the University enrolled her into law school but she rejected their decision and reported to the English department where she declared herself an English major. “Oh well, just another stone,” she thought. The University took a month to debate her situation and finally accepted her decision.
Mukarabe, a Tutsi by birth, shared her mother’s love for Hutus even when she was told by others, “Tutsis are evil and you should be killed.” In 1993, sensing a growing danger, Mukarabe fled to Kenya narrowly escaping the genocide in Burundi. A few months later, the genocide would also explode in Rwanda and over a million people, mostly Tutsi were killed.
Living in Kenya would be a life defining moment. Alone and without legal papers, Mukarabe was determined not to go to a refugee camp. She knew that people in the camps lost their identity and became just a number while facing constant humiliation. “In a refugee camp, you cannot be yourself anymore and you end up dying like that.” Providentially, she found a job in Nairobi and became the Liaison Officer for the United Nations World Food Program. After the genocide ended, she worked in Rwanda helping to reopen programs for the United Nations.
As a UN volunteer worker in Madagascar, 1995 to 1996, Mukarabe witnessed scores of malnourished children scavenging through dumpsters. She attributes much of the blame to mismanagement of resources, corrupt institutions and the roadblocks of bureaucracy.
Unable to return to Burundi, Mukarabe immigrated to America where she enrolled at Portland State University, Oregon and earned a Masters Degree in Public and Health Administration. In Oregon, she met her husband, Makinto and after briefly living in Europe, they moved to New York in 1999.
For years, the AIDS epidemic raged throughout Africa and Mukarabe watched her sisters and their husbands die of AIDS. Many children became orphans, and in 1999, Mukarabe together with her husband founded Amahoro International to address the AIDS problem in Africa. In 2006, they founded Rugaba’s Children, a group home for Burundian orphans.
In 2000, she was a major editor of the African Millennium Declaration document to end poverty, which was adopted by world leaders during the UN Millennium Summit. Also that year, the Makintos had a life changing personal encounter with God. Mukarabe says of that spiritual experience, “I stopped being a victim, I stopped being an orphan. I still had a passion for justice, but now I will fight out of hope and not out of anger and despair.” Nelson Mandela became her favorite role model. She describes: “A man who came out of prison loving and forgiving the people who locked him up for 27 years. What an icon of peace, justice and reconciliation!” Today, Mukarabe passionately agitates for justice and truth, endeavoring “to fulfill the mandate received from her Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
Fluent in five languages, Mukarabe worked for years as an interpreter for the US immigration courts helping refugees, many from African war torn countries. She helped articulate the stories of countless refugees living in fear of returning to their native land.
In 2015 and twenty-two years after Mukarabe had fled her country, the president of Burundi declared he would run for a third term in violation of the constitution and started killing thousands of innocent citizens to quench any potential opposition. An estimated 500,000 Burundians fled the country. With this tragic crisis unfolding, Mukarabe quickly took action to save refugees from going to refugee camps.
With help from many, in 2016 the Makintos built the Joyful House of Refuge (JHR) in Bombo, Uganda assisting Burundi refugees. JHR has grown into Amahoro Life Center (ALC) where spiritual nurture, leadership training, and self-sustainable projects are transforming refugees into productive members of society. Mukarabe’s dream is that, “All Burundians will be released from victim mentality into victorious people able to love Hutus and Tutsis; a generation transformed into a life purpose of hope ready to build a better society.”
Currently, the Joyful House of Refuge can house up to 30 residents. Mukarabe is a woman of wonder who sees Joyful House of Refuge as the first step into multiplying Amahoro Life Centers throughout Africa.
Mukarabe quit her job two years ago to become the executive director of Amahoro International, working full-time without pay. Mukarabe’s primary residence is the Los Angeles area, but she spends considerable time in Uganda. Amahoro International has been funded through the gifts of individuals who have heard the story Mukarabe’s work. Most funds go directly to assist the Burundian refugees in Uganda and additional funding is greatly needed to assist Mukarabe’s compensation and her desire to spend more time in Uganda.
One of Mukarabe’s favorite quotes is from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Mukarabe has become a voice of hope for the many Burundians who do not have any voice.
David Hino is Senior Pastor of The Light Fellowship in Signal Hill and board member of Amahoro International, and has traveled to Bombo, Uganda for the inauguration of the Joyful House of Refuge in July 2016