After the horrific experiences that the children and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi went through, resettling back into the communities was very challenging.
Philomene Kantengwa was born in 1980, in Nyanza District is a daughter of the Late Feinas Bapfakurera and Late Fortune Mukankusi. She was 14 years during the 1994 Genocide where she lost two siblings out of six, and both parents.
Her story torments even the most avid fans of the sequel horror movie ‘Saw’. Kantengwa says killings in her hometown, Nyanza happened in phases.
“They wiped out hill after hill. I remember it was at night when we saw homes on the opposite hill being burnt and some of the survivors were running towards our hill. When my father saw this, he told all of us to run to the next hill called Munyinya,” she says.
When they reached the neighbouring hill, the perpetrators had started killing and burning down their homes.
“Gushing flames and voices of people crying for help is all we heard that night,” Kantengwa sombrely recalls.
Her family fled to the next hill because there lived a prominent Tutsi soldier whom they thought would protect them.
“He tried to fight the perpetrators but they outnumbered him since he run out of ammunition and he was killed. Many people were killed and many injured amidst the shootings,” Kantengwa explains.
Kantengwa said they spent nights hiding in shrubs but the killers were always close and so they decided to divide. Her father went off with two of her brothers since all the girls opted to stay with their mother and that was the last time she saw them.
Several families divided into small groups and moved in separate directions with the hope that they stood a better chance of survival, to avoid the annihilation of their family line.
“Our mother told me and my three sisters to go to our grandparent’s house in the nearby village when she could not walk anymore and that was the last time I saw of her,” she stated.
When the three sisters arrived at their grandparent’s home, they were also facing the same fate,.
“We then decided to go back and trace our mother but we got lost since we kept using small village roads which were hard to remember,” Kantengwa said.
As they walked, they encountered fires and dead bodies scattered all over the place. By this time they were confused and found it hard to trust anyone they met. At several junctions, people were being separated based on their ethnicity—Tutsi or Hutu. The former were then killed.
“We avoided main roads because there were roadblocks everywhere. Before crossing, everyone had to show their identity cards (Indagamuntu) although I was still young to have one, we had to be careful because we would still be spotted by the killers who knew our parents and be killed.
“Sometimes we associated ourselves to Hutu families especially those that were merciful enough to take us in for a day or two. But when the announcement that any Hutu family hiding Tutsis would be killed, was made, hell broke loose and we were chased away by these families that were hiding us and we went back to hiding in the shrubs,” a sobbing Kantengwa says.
Amidst her narration, Kantengwa becomes stock-still and cries uncontrollable. It was as if she was reliving her experience 18 years ago. However, she asks to continue.
“We miraculously survived several deadly encounters with the interahamwe and it’s hard to believe that we are alive today. We always thank God for saving us,” she said.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi robbed Kantengwa’s childhood and teenagehood. After the Rwanda Patriotic Front stopped the Genocide, being the eldest among her sisters, made her the caretaker of the family.
“We went through hard times with my young sisters after the genocide. Before genocide, I was in senior one, but after the genocide, I had to forego school for my little sisters. I had to look after them through a lot of struggles and painful experiences,” Kantengwa discloses.
They lived in a small house in Migina, an area in Remera that was commonly occupied by sex workers. At times they would sleep in a neighbouring church on a mat because the house was so small for the four of them with a woman they called an aunt.
The sisters were consistent in prayer, luckily in 2005 during the Genocide commemoration period, Kantengwa got a house through the sponsorship of Solance Ministries.
“I had prayed a lot because having shelter was the only thing that would give me peace of mind. Through group prayers, I got in touch with Solance Ministries and that was the beginning of new life for our family. We were offered a house with all the necessities. I even went back to school and I completed senior six in 2009. I’m still hoping to join university,” Kantengwa said.
Solance Ministries is a non-profit organisation that counsels and empowers widows and orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“I currently have amicable hope that my future is bright. One of my young sisters is happily married and she is finishing university while the other one just completed her A’ Level education. I’m always happy when we achieve something together, I know our parents wherever they are, are proud of us,” Kantengwa says.