Life Lessons From Clementine Bihiga


While most of my posts have to do with local, Cincinnati-based people, I was very compelled by the story of Clementine Bihiga, an inspirational author and speaker. I think that you will be too. While the first part of her story is very painful to read, it is important for us to learn from it. And how that little girl who witnessed far more than any human being should ever have to see and experience in their lifetime, found her inner strength, channeled it and is using it to inspire others is nothing short of incredible. Thank you to Clementine, for your openness in sharing and helping others.

The true story of Clementine told in her own words…

Sometimes as humans, we are so quick to give up.
Its easy to see ourselves as victims instead of victors.
As losers instead of conquerors.
As invalids instead of masterpieces.
As hopeless instead of hopeful.

How many times have we been turned down and decided to stop?
How often do we take rejection as a sign that it’s not meant to be?
Seek others’ approval before running after our dreams?
Feel defeat because things are not going our way?

As a refugee, I started facing rejection at a very young age. For starters, I fled my country when I was eight years old and had to fend for myself when my parents disappeared for a period of two weeks. When I eventually reunited with our parents, my naive self, thought I was going back home to Rwanda.

That didn’t happen.

As a girl, Clementine Bihiga was a refugee from Rwanda who saw and experienced what no human being should ever have to endure. Fear was her best friend. Even after her family moved to the United States, life was difficult. But, it was those life experiences that also taught her about LIVING and inspiring her to inspire others. Now she is a motivational speaker, author and fund raiser for a refugee school in Kenya. Please read her story. Instead, we went to live in refugee camps where we faced death right in the eyes every day.

In these camps, malaria, cholera, typhoid, etc. claimed over half of the refugees there. We would wake up every day and find ourselves surrounded by dead bodies. At this point, l felt like life wasn’t worth living. This was too much for my little 8-year-old brain and body to handle.

Fear was my best friend.

One day I went to Lake Kivu to fetch water and wash a shirt my mother had bought me. I had to lay on a “log” as an anchor so that I could swim towards the shirt (I couldn’t swim) and when I made the small leap so that I could grab my shirt, the log turned and I saw that it was actually a dead body.

There was not enough room to bury bodies during the genocide, bodies were being thrown in the lake. We used this water for drinking, cooking, washing clothes, dishes and bathing.

Life wasn’t fair. I wanted to give up.

When my family eventually got to the U.S.A., I was bullied in high school for being “different.” Every day, I would want to quit going to school because I had suffered so much. It felt like life was not giving me a break.

At the age of 29, I lost a daughter when I was 27 weeks pregnant. No one could explain why I lost her. I was told it’s like getting into a car accident. I felt lost and angry and many more emotions. After this, I really wanted to give up.

I looked around for an answer. What was my purpose in this life? Why did I feel like I was being targeted? I told God to fix everything. To fix the hatred that’s going on in this world, the heartache, the hunger, the diseases, I wanted God to do something…until I realized HE already had.

God created me! I am a masterpiece! He made me and gave me my unique capabilities so I can be a light to the darkness that’s going on in this world. He gave me a life, and a story I could share with the world to inspire and motivate people to be the best they can be, to make an impact in other people’s lives.

After this realization, I knew what I had to do! I made the decision not so see myself as a victim but a victor, not as hopeless but hopeful, not  as a loser but a conqueror, not an invalid but a masterpiece!

Being hopeful meant that I knew that whatever comes my way, I would be able to go through it and come out a stronger person. It meant that I could go through hard times and know that they are temporary. When tough times came, I found myself being excited to meet the new and improved “Clementine” once it was all over. This is how I chose to live like a conqueror!

I sat down in front of my computer and wrote a book in English, my fourth language. I prayed my book would be in the hands of those who needed motivation, inspiration, a second chance and a light in the darkness. Happily Broken:Discovering Happiness Through Pain and Suffering is a testimony that we can choose our pain to either break us or to inspire others. The fact that I’m from a war torn country, lived in refugee camps and settlements, was discriminated against and bullied and that I had to bury my child didn’t mean that my life was over. I understand that I life, its not what we go through, but it’s what we create, what we conquer and what we aim to achieve. I chose to make an impact by sharing my story, a story of hope, resilience, overcoming adversity and dancing while at it! Yes, I love to dance. My talks often start with dancing….to show audiences that life is a beautiful dance!

To me, happiness is when I’m doing what I love, which is motivational public speaking and making an impact in the lives of others. In my talks, I inspire and motivate others to be GRATEFUL, AUTHENTIC, RESILIENT and IMPACT-FUL. Recently, I inspired a group of college students at Anna Maria College to start a campus wide movement to support a refugee school in the slums of Kenya through my fund, the Clementine Bihiga fund for a refugee school in KenyaClarette Refugee Fund established in honor of my daughter! Remember, If an 8 year old refugee girl can do it, so can you!


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