Artist Spotlight~ Uwitonze Leonille

Exemplifying Resilience

In 2002, Leonille was working as a secretary at the tribunal in Ruli Sector. One evening, she was returning to Ruli from Rushashi with her 3 month old son on a very crowded mini-bus when the vehicle crashed.  She saw nothing but blood and bodies all around her, and did not know if her son was alive or dead.

Leonille spent over a month in Ruli District Hospital’s intensive care unit, where she received many blood transfusions due to persistent internal bleeding. She was barely conscious during this time. When her mind finally cleared, she discovered that her back was broken.

“In fact”, describes Leonille, “I felt that every part of my body was broken”. She spent the following five months in the hospital trying to recover, as well as countless additional surgeries to repair damage to her broken bones. Knowledge that her son was indeed alive motivated her to continue living and healing.

Leonille discovered that she was HIV+ in 2007.  When she heard the words “HIV Positive”, Leonille felt as though she was dying a second death. She often asked God, “why am I not dead?”  She began to think about her future, and her son Joshua. One day, she woke up with renewed determination to survive.  She asked a friend to teach her how to bead so that she could work again.



“It is not good to just close my arms and die.  I must find a way to have the strength to live”

In the beginning, Leonille continued to feel as though her body refused to work. Every time she moved, it was like she was opening a wound. Gradually, she became stronger and more confident. Now, she finds inspiration everywhere. She looks at her son, who is now first in his class at school. She also looks at the board that displays her variety of beaded artwork, and she feels productive and proud. 

Leonille has developed a talent for creating beautiful earrings, necklaces, and beaded coasters. She is now expanding her skills to include beaded place mats to match her colorful coasters, and she is experimenting with a new design of purses. Through her work with the Ihangane Association, she is able to provide for herself, her son and her entire extended family. “God is number one”, proclaims Leonille “and everyone should believe”.