Rwanda Genocide Survivor Helping Fukushima’s Nuclear Refugees

Marie Louise Kambenga bonds with two residents of Namie, who live in the temporary housing community located in Nihonmatsu, during Cafe Rwanda in February 2016. Photographs by Ari Beser.

FUKUSHIMA, Japan—Fukushima resident Marie Louise Kambenga, 50 years old, knows what it is like to be a refugee—but not in the way you’d think.

Twenty-two years ago this week, she escaped the Rwandan genocide and found refuge in Japan as a student at Fukushima’s Notre Dame School for Girls.

In 2013, she became a Japanese citizen, and has lived and raised her family in Fukushima. After an earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, the Rwandan embassy encouraged her to evacuate, but she refused.

“The people of Fukushima saved my life,” she said, “and I could never abandon them.”

That’s why Kambenga created Cafe Rwanda, a monthly event at a temporary housing community set up for people who evacuated Namie Village, a town on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, following the 2011 tragedy.

Kambenga and volunteers bring Rwandan coffee and tea to enjoy during live storytelling, musical performances, and more. She gives the community members a chance to unwind and let loose in what can often be a monotonous life, especially for the elderly residents who have nowhere else to go during the days.

Marie Louise Kambenga has been visiting evacuated nuclear refugees and serving them Rwandan Coffee and tea since the disaster struck over five years ago.

Building a Community

Cafe Rwanda wasn’t always so organized.

Initially after the disaster Kambenga traveled around to hotels and gymnasiums that were taking in evacuees, offering them her coffee. She was already well traveled, having given lectures across the prefecture to raise money for her nonprofit organization Think About Education in Rwanda and her primary school, Umuco Mwiza, back —> Read More