The Incredible Story of a Rwandan Genocide Survivor
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic and far-reaching genocide in Rwanda. We have an absolutely remarkable young lady attending our Brier Creek Campus (on Saturday!) who lived through it. The (re)post below is a good personal meditation leading up to passion week, about how God takes even the worst human situations and makes all things new.
My name is Alphonsine Imaniraguha. I was born and grew up in Rwanda, a country flowing with honey and milk in the heart of Africa. “Alphonsine” is a French name meaning “a noble warrior,” and “Imaniraguha” is a Kinyarwanda name meaning “God gives you.” I was the second-born of five siblings.
My family was very happy in the early years, and my parents were the best people I have ever known. I recall very well the parents I knew only a few years. My mother Colette was a brave woman with a big heart. It took me many years to understand how she could pray for and love people whom I knew didn’t, like our family. I clearly remember some of her in-laws who were jealous because she married a financially stable man. Perhaps they wanted to be the ones benefitting from my dad’s small business. You see, where I come from, when someone makes a good living, they are expected to be responsible for their immediate family and all other relatives as well. It’s no wonder they were jealous. I may have forgotten some things about my mother, but the way she loved and treated people equally gripped to my heart for good.
My mother was an amazing mom. She was everything to us, caring very deeply and being there to listen, advise, and console us. My father was my best friend. He was sweet and his smile and the beauty in his eyes revealed his kindness and humbleness to everyone who saw him. I still think that my dad was the most handsome man that ever lived. My parents taught us to pray, to love all people and treat our neighbors as family. They also did their best to keep my siblings and me from knowing all the details about the history of violence in Rwanda, their past and the ethnic tensions. Perhaps in hopes of helping us to grow up treating everyone like a family. Whenever we saw or heard anything bad on the news, their answer was the same: “Everything will be okay. Don’t listen to those people.” I could not dream anything bad would happen to them.
But on the night of April 6th, 1994, we were to witness a new page in the history of Rwanda. My whole family was at home during the Easter school break, with the exception of my sister Claudine who was visiting her godmother nearby. Suddenly, we heard the unusual sound of big guns and explosions not too far away and saw flames in the sky. We rushed to our radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the then Rwandan president had been shot as it was landing right outside the capital city Kigali, in Kanombe.
Within seconds the horrifying genocide began. Statistics estimate that at least a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 100 days. Ironically, it took more than two months for the United Nations and the international community to rule the systematic killings of the Tutsi at a rate of 10,000 per day a genocide. This staggering number includes those dearest to me — my parents and two of my siblings, close friends and classmates, neighbors and fellow citizens.
A stranger saved my life. By the grace of God, three of my younger siblings, who were all under 10 at the time, also survived. Initially orphaned and separated, we were eventually reunited and able to return to school. Providing for my siblings was not an easy task. They were so young and required more than a teenage girl could give, but I knew I had to grow up quickly. I soon became their mother, especially to my youngest sister Mireille who cannot even remember the faces of our parents.
As for me, I have never been young. I never knew what it was to buy fancy clothes or wear pretty shoes. I never spent money on trinkets or jewelry like other girls. And I never dared to shop just for the joy of it. The awareness that I had to save every coin for the well-being of my siblings was always with me. I never had the freedom to complain or whine like more fortunate children. I was grateful to just have something to eat, and a place to lay my body and close my eyes.
Many wonderful people have helped me along the way, but God has been the “crew chief” on this journey. He revealed Himself not only in times of joy but in the most devastating of situations. Although I struggled to pay for food, clothes, medical expenses, and find a place to live, I was able to win a full scholarship to college in Rwanda where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics Engineering, and in the United States where I earned a Master’s Degree in Telecom Engineering.
Although the genocide left many scars that I still carry to this day, my gratitude to God is immeasurable. For years I struggled with stomach problems that started shortly after the Genocide ended. After being treated with every stomach drug available in Rwanda between 1994 and 2004, a doctor at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali (CHUK), where I was transferred as the only option left, shocked me with news I wasn’t prepared to hear: “You have an ulcer. It seems like you have been drinking alcohol and smoking for many years.” I could not help but laugh. “But doctor, I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol,” I replied.
A surgery that was then scheduled didn’t take place for reasons I don’t remember. I was instead prescribed more medication which was by then my daily diet. Then one day in the beginning of my senior year (2004), I noticed I was pain free. At first I thought it was just a break from the pain. Then more days passed and before I knew it, my stomach problems were completely gone. No more sickness, no more hiccups, and no need for a special diet. After many years of stomach pain and abdominal burning, God had listened to my cry and put an end to my sickness. Several years later, I consulted an American Gastroenterologist to be on the safe side. The results showed there was nothing wrong with my stomach.
God is the great I Am. Not only has He been my protection, healer, father and a friend, He is also our provider. I will never be able to explain how my siblings and I got where we are today. At this writing, my brother Eric and my sister Alice are both expecting master’s degrees in 2014; and Mireille is a junior in college. I have no doubt these three are the reason I am alive today.
One night after the genocide ended, trying to grasp what just happened to my short-lived life, I had a dream. In it, I was talking to my father, Alphonse, and I promised him I would love and care for his surviving children as he would if he were alive. I am grateful to God who has instilled in me the love I have for my siblings. I will never be able to put it in words.
I have one answer for those who ask me why I am not bitter or why I forgave those who made me an orphan. Knowing that my parents are in heaven with God, I will do whatever it takes in this life to please the Lord, because I live with the sole hope that I’ll again see Colette and Alphonse, my life’s inspiration, in the new life that knows no sorrow or separation. I love my parents deeply and often wish they could see what their little girl has become. They would have been proud. For all that’s worth, I’m willing to sacrifice everything to please the God who has my parents and two siblings with Him.
I have not only been a parent, but God blessed me with people who call me their daughter. Bob and Glori Lovall, whom I met shortly before graduating from college in Rochester, New York, have nothing in common with me through flesh’s eyes: skin color, background, lifestyle, social or economic upbringing, but they call me their daughter. For many years, no one extended such an offer, not even my relatives in Rwanda. No one had called me daughter since I lost my parents.
“Wherever you will be in the world, remember that you have a home here,” my new mom said. While I was forced to become a mother as a teenager, now at last I have a place where I feel young and spoiled, a place where I am constantly told that I am loved.
This is my story: how I was not only able to survive the loss of my parents and a country torn apart by genocide, but to succeed and become the woman of faith I am today – and the promise of the person I hope to become tomorrow.