[VIDEO] Genocide: A family’s 23-year wait and search for missing daughter

Nyirambabazi’s father Leonard Sebarinda last saw her in June 1994 and all hopes of ever seeing his daughter again had faded. It was not until in 2010 when the family, thanks to the daughter’s brother, started searching for her.
Jeanette Chiapello together with her husband Massino Ghersi during their visit to Nyamata Genocide Centre on Thursday. / Faustin Niyigena
Jeanette Chiapello together with her husband Massino Ghersi during their visit to Nyamata Genocide Centre on Thursday. / Faustin Niyigena

She seems thoughtful but attentive as she walks into Nyamata Genocide Memorial site. Her mind seems to be far perhaps reflecting on her mother and other family members, whose remains rest in the memorial that once used to be a church.

She might have thought about how she survived the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi due to God’s mercy.

When the Genocide against the Tutsi started, Beatha Nyirambabazi was two years old. Her mother, twin sister and brother were butchered by Interahamwe militia. She narrowly escaped the militia because they thought she was dead.

When they left, Nyirambabazi was taken to an orphanage that was close to the church before being flown to Italy by a nun who used to take care of them.

In Italy, she was taken in by an adoptive family who renamed her Jeanette Chiapello. Until this week...

It was joy and jubilation this week as the family reunited. Chiapello, her husband Massino Ghersi, and friends who accompanied them landed at Kigali International Airport from Italian city of Turin where the family lives.

They hugged endlessly as tears of joy filled the moment. Later, celebrations were held to mark the reunion.

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Sebarinda chats with a nun after the visit at Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre. / Faustin Niyigena

Lost hope

Nyirambabazi’s father Leonard Sebarinda last saw her in June 1994 and all hopes of ever seeing his daughter again had faded.

“When the Genocide ended, I was told by a neighbour that my daughter had survived and had been taken to an orphanage. Shortly after, I met her and she smiled to me, this was the last time I saw her,” says Sebarinda, who survived with three children and currently lives in Ntarama Sector in Bugesera District.

“I was happy that she survived but hurting because I did not know her whereabouts. I was always worried about her but there was no option, I just had to give up and believe she was safe and in God’s care,” adds the father, who smiles and then wipes away some tears of joy.

It was not until in 2010 when the family, thanks to the daughter’s brother, started searching for her.

“I started by looking for people she was flown out with. I met Anastase, who was a guard at the orphanage, he told me that the other kids who went with her had returned to Rwanda and I started searching for their contacts. I finally got them and they told me her new name and gave me her e-mail,” says Vincent Twizeyimana, the brother.

“I launched a search, I sent her an e-mail in 2010 but she thought it was an unsolicited message. She told me she could not believe we were related,” he adds.

“I took this as normal as she left when she was young, she knew nothing and thought there were no family members left in Rwanda. I thought she was still too young to understand this and she wanted to get proof that I was a family member. I understood her and decided to give her time.”

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The family and friends observe a moment of silence in memory of the departed relatives. / Faustin Niyigena

Twizeyimana at one point decided to give up after his sister warned him against sending her e-mails.

“It was in 2011 after I sent her my picture and those of my family members that she asked me to stop sending her e-mails, that nothing proves we are her blood relatives, I stopped giving her time again,” Twizeyimana says.

However, as Twiziyimana decided to give up contacting his sister, the situation was different on the other side. Chiapello had also for years been reflecting on their exchanges and really wanted to know her roots.

Now, Chiapello decided to write to her brother. In March this year, she sent him an e-mail with the message that she wanted to know the truth about her origin and more details about her family.

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Chiapello enters the grave in which her family’s remains are interred together with her husband Ghersi and brother Twizeyimana during their visit at Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre on Thursday. / Faustin Niyigena

DNA tests that brought happiness

In the end, Chiapello suggested a DNA test and sample of her father’s blood and hers, which was taken to the UK for analysis, and results confirmed they were related.

The DNA test took place in July and the family was full of joy even before they organised to meet.

“I am happy to be here in Rwanda and to have found my biological family. It was unbelievable to see my family, my brother Vincent traced me because he had contacts, we exchanged e-mails and finally we found each other,” said Chiapello.

“I will be happy if my family that adopted me and my two daughters will one day meet my native family Rwanda has changed and now we can see, Rwanda in a different way,” said Chiapello.

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Jeanette's husband Massino Ghersi wrote in the visitors' book at Nyamata Genocide Centre. / Faustin Niyigena

Like his daughter, Sebarinda could not hide his happiness.

“I am extremely happy to see my daughter 23 years after we separated; it was real dream to see her again. I never before believed it would happen. I am thankful to the family that adopted her and raised her. I will be grateful to see the entire family when they are back with my grandchildren,” he said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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