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Rwanda's 'Children Of The Genocide' Reveal That Life Can Go On In Beautiful Smiling Portraits

05/04/2014 08:00 BST | Updated 05/04/2014 14:59 BST

The polaroid of the smiling boy standing with his puffed chest straining his pink and red striped t-shirt is difficult for Cyprien to look at.

"When we’re children, we are like angels. We think that everything is perfect and we’re oblivious to all the bad things happen around us," he said, contemplating the faded image.

The picture was taken after he and his two siblings, 15-year-old Flodouard and five-year-old Gloriose had fled their home in Jali village, after the murder of his parents.

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Cyprien, 33, is now working as a mechanic in the Rwanda military

It was the first days of the Rwandan genocide, 20 years ago this week.

The siblings were found by an advancing rebel army and taken to an orphanage in Byumba. There, Save the Children eventually found them and reunited them with their uncle, who fostered the three children.

Cyprien's polaroid is one of thousands found in an old file from Save the Children's time documenting the children of the genocide.

The photographs, taken in the months following the war in 1994, were carried by the charity from village to village to try to find the families of an estimated 8,000 lost children.

The bloody 100-day ethnic conflict left Rwanda with the highest proportion of orphans in the world.

Seeing the photograph of herself as a small girl, grinning in a white lace dress, moved Gloriose to tears. "I think when this photo was taken I still believed that everything was going to be okay and that my parents were still alive and that they would provide me with a happy life.

"After we were placed in a foster family with our uncle, when I was about nine years old, I started to realise that things were not as easy as I had believed and I understood that in fact I was an orphan."

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Gloriose, 25, was only five years old when her parents we killed in the Rwandan genocide

Elder brother Flouduard witnessed the killing of his parents. "When the massacres were happening, I was there but I hid myself underneath the corpses.

"It was as if God himself was hiding me, but I saw everything that happened.

"There were dead bodies on top of me, but I was able to get up and run away all the way until I reached the military barracks."

Even as a 15-year-old, Flouduard was determined to return one day to his family's land. "I realised that I wouldn’t be able to advance in life if I was living with another family," he said.

"And I told myself that I had to take back our family land. So I went there and started to build a house."

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After witnessing his parents being killed, Flodouard fled with his siblings

He struggled, he said, with his new role as head of the household, as "an adolescent trying to take care of other children. But he raised them on their new farm, married and has three children of his own.

And because of the sacrifices her brothers made to prioritise their younger sister's education, Gloriose is now at university, studying veterinary medicine.

"My dream is to be able to help my brother Flodouard by paying his children’s school fees. My older brother sacrificed so much for me to have an education, so I hope to be able to return the favour for his children," she said.

Cyprien is 33 and has been a mechanic in the Rwandan army for 16 years. "Seeing these photos reminded me right away of my past," Cyprien said.

"And all of this brings me back to the present and my current situation and the progress my country has made.

"Looking at this photo I can see that I was happy at the time. I wasn’t aware of the difficulty that lay ahead of me.

"When you’re a child, and you have enough to eat, you don’t have any worries. It’s when you become an adult that you begin to have worries."

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Flodouard, now 35, looks through the 1995 Save the Children case files of himself and his brother and sister

"It makes me think that history is never erased, whatever you do in life, the history remains. It shows that you still have a memory of what has happened in the past.

"When I see that you’ve come back to see me, it makes me feel that someone was still thinking about me – that someone knew I still exist.

All of the siblings expressed their joy at seeing the Save the Children agency workers who came to show them their old polaroids.

"It’s very moving for me that you have come to find me. It’s exceptional. You have to understand how happy I am. " said Flouduard, who showed his young family the case files of himself and his siblings.

"This shows me that the compassion and amour that you had when you came and took me from [the orphanage] Byumba is still there, and it shows me that you still love me and all the other children from that time.

"You see us now that we are adults and have children of our own. That you remembered me shows me that you love us."

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Polaroids from Save the Children's archives in Kigali of orphans and separated children that they documented following the Rwandan genocide in 1994

"Human beings are selfish by their nature," Cyprien said.

"But if we want to be loved, we have to learn to love others. It’s a touching gesture that you’ve come to see us now that we are adults and see where we are now.

"Those of us who you’ve visited, may even take from this an extra motivation to go out and help others in need.

"Even in our humble situations, we’ve made a lot of progress to get to where we are now. I hope that others who have been through the same difficulties as us can at least end up doing as well as we are doing now and that they can find the peace that we enjoy ourselves today.”