When her parents relocated to the eastern province, four-year-old Larissa Murenzi and her five-year-old brother were left in the care of an aunt and her husband, living in Nyamirambo, because they had just started school. The horrific events that followed were more than anyone can endure.
Often times, in the aunt’s absence, the husband would terrorise little Murenzi, beating and threating her as he saw fit. She recalls that one time, he made her drink her urine because she had wet the bed. He would also take her to the top of the house and threaten to throw her off the roof if she ever said anything.
As if the torment wasn’t enough, one day, the man raped her, and threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone.
Larissa Murenzi started ‘Baho with Larissa Foundation’ to give girls with mental health issues a platform to speak up and share their stories as a way of healing. Photos/Courtesy
“I was in hell for three years. He raped me many times, but I can’t remember how many times because I was very young, but he was doing it repeatedly in the time I spent there. I left when I was seven to go live with my parents,” she says.
“People noticed I had changed but being a natural loner, my mother didn’t look too much into it. Some said I was looking for attention.
“However, a few others talked my mother into taking me to see a doctor, and when we got there, she told the doctor what was going on and the doctor suggested I see a psychologist. I was never physically examined,” she says.
Asked if she ever thought to tell her mother what had happened, she says at one point, she did, but sadly, her mother dismissed it as another attempt to get attention.
“At some point, I wondered if she was my real mother, as she didn’t seem to care or even notice my anguish,” she says.
To this day, Murenzi recalls all that happened like it was yesterday, and she says that such trauma never goes away, it stays in your mind.
By the time she got to Senior Six, Murenzi says she was tired of living. She even thought about taking her own life.
She wanted to commit suicide after doing her national exams, but ‘an encounter with God’ turned everything around.
During an overnight prayer sermon in church when she was in high school, she opened up and spoke about her ordeal in public for the first time.
“I went to church and met God. We were asked to pray for our burdens in life, and when I did, I felt blessed and I finally found rest. In that moment, I knew I had met with God’s grace, that’s when I started a new life with the power of God,” Murenzi says.
“I talked about it and something instantly changed, I felt like the burden had become somehow lighter, so I started sharing more and more, and it really worked, it was a relief.
“After opening up in church, I told my aunt about it, and she was devastated. She, however, couldn’t tell anyone, as the man was a well-known Christian, respected by many, and so it was likely that no one would believe it. They got divorced before she completed high school.”
From then on, her commitment to become better, coupled with psychological support, as well as sharing her story with other people, helped her overcome her trauma.
“I started visiting psychologists and I got the treatment I needed. With them, I knew I had someone I could share my story with to listen without pushing me away. I wanted to come from where I was, I wanted to live and enter a new life. I accepted to tell others what happened to me and believed that I can live in good health, I also believed in forgiveness.
“It was God’s grace, I must say. Secondly, sharing the story is the most powerful decision I’ve ever made, and I am now getting help, I have a doctor at King Faisal Hospital. I was checked for any permanent damage and luckily, there wasn’t. Also, listening to others has helped with the healing process,” Murenzi says.
Reaching out to others
As a victim of abuse and one who has suffered mental illness, Murenzi says she truly understands what other victims go through and encourages them not to lose hope because there is treatment, and many ways of dealing with mental health.
During the first lockdown in 2020, the idea of starting a foundation hit her. It started as a small group of people, and she wanted to help fellow girls at school.
Murenzi started an organisation, ‘Baho with Larissa Foundation,’ which gives a platform to people with mental health issues to speak up and share their stories as a way of healing. It also helps them to meet with psychologists.
“The idea was to go out and share our experiences, but being indoors, we had to find a way to this, and this was through a book titled “Escape to Breathe”, but we didn’t have the finances to get it published so I started making documentaries, from there I got more people seeking help and that’s how BAHO started,” she says.
“We’re still working online and designing a long-term project. In November, hopefully, will launch officially, and that’s when I can share more about the organisation,” she says.
She encourages those who are passing through life similar to hers that it is possible to heal, “You have to have power in you, find someone to help and speak up. Life is good and you are created to live, don’t be afraid.”