MARIE JOSEE UMUTONI, 38, is a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which left over a million people killed in just about three months.
Umutoni, who was just a teenager at the time of the Genocide, always struggled to understand why the same people they used to call friends or neighbours turned out to be their tormentors.
It was a difficult period for her as she joined her family members in an escape journey hoping to elude the killers. From her home village in Rutsiro District, Western Province, Umutoni’s family scampered from one place to another with the Interahamwe militia hot on their heels. Their journey ended in the hills of Bisesero in Karongi District.
Umutoni eventually survived the killings but her parents and siblings did not. Many of them were mercilessly slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia at Gatwaro stadium.
When the massacres were finally stopped, Umutoni, the lone survivor in a family of 10 children, sunk into abject poverty and lost hope for a better life.
“I thought it was the end of the road. My life had been destroyed and my dreams shattered. I couldn’t see where to start from,” Umutoni says.
She led a destitute life for years, depending on hand-outs from the government, especially through the Fund for the Support of Genocide Survivors (FARG).
“I even failed to find courage to grow crops on my family’s land. The traumatic experience coupled with loniliness had consumed my entire life,” she says.
Finding the courage
For a long time, Umutoni depended on government and well-wishers. But she later decided to forge her own future and took up farming in order to transform her life. Today, she is happily married with four children.
“My husband has been very supportive and we have worked together to better our lives,” she says.
Umutoni now runs a pub in Rutsiro’s main trading centre. She says she earns about Rwf100,000 per month from the business. She supplements her income by engaging in agriculture and animal husbandry.
With income from varied activities, Umutoni’s family has managed to put a roof over their heads and can fend for themselves.
“I have come a long way. Of course I have not yet attained the level I want, but I have made significant achievements,” she says.
Umutoni says 20 years after the Genocide, everyone seems to have hope for a bright future.
“Even those who were devastated have picked up the courage and are working hard to transform their lives,” she adds. Umutoni commended ongoing government efforts to consolidate unity amongst Rwandans.
Faina Kampire, 44, another survivor, cites hard work and sustained efforts as the secrets to a better life.
Kampire, a resident of Bumba Cell in Mushubati Sector, Rutsiro District, is grateful to the government for its support which she says has enabled her transform her life after it had practically been destroyed by the Genocide.
During the Genocide, Kampire lost property but was lucky to survive along with her husband whom she had married a year before the carnage. Having been of ‘Hutu decent’, Kampire was not a direct target of killers but she put her life on the line when she helped her husband escape.
“One day the militias captured me, tortured me and threatened to cut off my legs if I declined to disclose the whereabouts of my husband,” she recalls, noting that she later had a miscarriage as a result of the torture.
She luckily managed to escape from the killers and was on the run until the killings were brought to an end by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA).
“After the Genocide, life became hard. But with tireless efforts and support from the government, we managed to start afresh,” she says.
“At first, we were given a cow under the One-Cow per Poor Family programme,” she recalls, saying that was a turning point.
Currently, Kampire’s family keeps seven cows and small livestock, which include 17 rabbits, five chickens and six turkeys. They are also involved in agriculture and her husband runs a workshop that offers welding and other related services.