Amanda Mpundu Mwiza was born on December 22, 2006 in Portland, Maine, to Solomon Gasana and Clemence Nyirarerwa. She appeared in the world with impressive beauty, so her parents named her Mwiza, meaning “the beautiful.” Her middle name, Mpundu, means “shout for victory,” in honor of the great joy with which she was welcomed by family and friends.
At two years of age, she began to show complications with her verbal communication and using her right eye, which was sensitive to light. On March 17, 2011, she was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor. The renowned neurosurgeons at Duke and UNC Hospitals said there were no options to operate or use any other treatments. She underwent a short experimental chemotherapy treatment which was discontinued after it was shown to be ineffective.
Although her doctors refrained from giving a precise prognosis, they said she would not live more than two years. But Amanda was a fighter. She outlived all predictions, for six more years. Although she gradually lost physical strength she remained alert and retained her emotional and intellectual abilities to learn and interact with her family and friends.
She fought her cancer with incredible courage and with the support of her loving family. Many times she became critically ill and recovered. In fact, in the last ten months she improved her strength and and her quality of life. But on June, 16, 2018 she became critically ill again. She
was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. She never recovered and passed away peacefully in the arms of her father and nurses on June 19, 2018 at 2.30am.
She was incredibly gifted. She learned to read at the age of three and used that ability to communicate. She had a photographic memory that enabled her to retain all the information she saw. When she was four years old she watched her teacher input a complicated password in her IPAD before closing it to pay attention to another child. Amanda picked it up, input the password and opened the IPAD. Amanda would always find a way to open her mother’s cell phone no matter how her mother tried to prevent it. She loved electronic gadgets and had great curiosity. She enjoyed exploring, experimenting, discovering and learning new games.
She was very organized and clean. For example, if someone left the door open she would always close it, or if she saw a shoe on the floor, she would pick it up and put it in the shoe closet. After touching anything she would wash her hands.
Although her ability to speak verbally was limited, she never failed to communicate her love for people, nature, and God. As she ran around outside, she often stopped to admire something as simple as a leaf. She was particularly fond of collecting and admiring the beauty of flowers. You could see in her eyes the admiration for God’s creation and the curiosity to learn. She loved watching and playing in the rain and feeling and searching through the grass. She was mesmerized by the natural world. Every time she walked outside she would always bring back something: a flower, a rock, any reminder of her love for nature.
She was an excellent learner. Her last homebound teacher Ms. Jennifer Michalenok wrote these words in her memory. “I will remember Amanda as a tenacious, loving young woman. Her smile and laughter were contagious and her love of Science inspiring. Over the course of this school year, she reminded me of how important it is to embrace every day as an opportunity for love, family, and learning something new. You couldn’t help but embrace her positivity and energy. She was smart, capable, and always ready to let me know when we needed to change lessons or when she was bored with assignments she didn’t like. She made me a better teacher and pushed me to challenge her every session”
Her love of singing and music was the greatest mark of her life. She sang all day and everywhere. Parents and friends take solace in knowing that she is now singing with perfect voice among angels in heaven. She also communicated with unique, vibrant, and giddy laughter that expressed her tender heart and her courage, peace and love to her sisters and parents. Many family and friends who came to see her were touched by the non-verbal, emotional communication she developed with her parents and sibling. She was very sensitive and loving. She always rushed to comfort and protect her little sister Ava whenever she cried.
Quote from her family….
During her life of suffering she taught all the people she met her lessons of life. She brought so many people closer to God as they prayed for her. Pastor Samuel Rushombo, a friend of the family who visited and prayed for her said, “I am always drawn closer to God whenever I pray for Amanda. I believe others are too”
Everyone that met her closely admired her courage. At the Chapel Hill High School Class 2018 graduation, her sister Annette was the principal chosen speaker. She spoke of courage and persistence, and how Amanda’s life inspired her determination to excel in school. The speech was a moving and powerful inspiration for everyone in attendance. In the speech she said “Each morning as I walk down the stairs, I hear her laughing in the face of her disease, and I feel encouraged to go on. She is the epitome of courage and my hero.” These words of Amanda’s story brought courage to many who had never even met her.
Amanda’s beauty, inside and out, made an impression on countless lives and will never be extinguished from our minds. She remains a symbol of selfless love and brought such joy to our lives. There is no easy way for us to say goodbye to Amanda, but we mustn’t dwell in sadness. Instead, we should choose to focus on how happy she made us when she was in our lives. Amanda, may you rest in eternal peace.
“There are so many things that were amazing about you Amanda but there is not enough time to put them in words. I remember the way you liked organized things and so clean. For, example if someone left the door open you would always close it, or if you saw a shoe on the floor you would pick it up and put it away. I remember the way you were so clean, after touching anything you would wash your hands. I remember the way you loved nature, loved watching and playing in the rain and feeling and searching the grass. When it would snow, you watched it mesmerizingly. And every time we walked you would always bring something back. I remember how loving you were, every time your sister Ava would cry you would always comfort her. You would always protect her and empathize with her. You were always so curious, always wondering why? I remember how smart you were, every time I changed my phone password you would always find a way to open it. You were so strong, always a fighter, even in your last moments you were still fighting.
I miss you” Clemence Nyirarerwa (Mother).
“Amanda, your life was short on earth and full of suffering. But you taught lifetime lessons to all people who met you. Your inspired courage and resolve as people watched your strength to fight your illnesses until your last moments. I will always see your enquiring eyes that looked at mine like you are reading my mind or ask me profound life questions. You were so intelligent. I remember how you learned to read so easily as I read books to you. I will miss those moments of reading and singing. Your transfixing laugher will continue to ring in my heart forever. You are my hero” Solomon Gasana (Father)
“Amanda, you brought a smile and joy to everyone that met you closely. Although, your speech abilities were limited from a very young age, you never failed to communicate your love for people, nature, and God. I will always remember how much you loved running around and sometimes stopping to admire something as simple as a leaf. I could see in your eyes the admiration for God’s creation even when you were young to understand God. Your love for Gospel music is something that I shared with you and it is a memory that I will never forget. I take solace in knowing that you will be singing with perfect voice among angels in heaven. There is not easy way for me to say goodbye to you Amanda, but I know I can’t dwell in sadness. Instead, I chose to focus on how happy you made me when you were in my life. We will miss you Amanda forever and will always remember your smile and laughter”. Anitha Nyirandatwa (Aunt)
“Amanda, you were not only beautiful on the outside, you were a beautiful soul. Even though you were my little sister, I learned so many things from you. Your strength was resilient. You fought for many years with us and smiled through the pain. Although incredibly difficult, this reminds me not to feel sorrow, but instead to feel grateful that your presence has blessed our lives. I pray that God welcomes you with open arms and that you experience eternal peace that you were never granted on this earth.” Angelique Niyonkuru (Sister).
“My sweet girl you were amazing. I remember the day you were born, so small and truly Mwiza. You were such a gift and we were all so excited to have you. You were so strong and so pure. Your laugh was so loud and vibrant all the time. You were always the kindest person in the room. You always protected and showed me abundant love and compassion. You truly were the best, most perfect sister. I will always remember your giddy laugh, your soft skin and tender heart. I know You are running with the angels and singing with God. Earth will never be the same without you, but we will forever be changed by your life. Thank you for allowing me to be your sister!” Annette Seka
“Amanda, you were very helpful loving big sister. You were very intelligent and warmhearted. Whenever I woke up to get ready for school, I would hear your breathing, still sleeping, and feel happy you are alive. I miss you. I remember your laughter and miss it. It is good that you are singing and dancing in heaven with Angels. I love you.” Ava Akazuba