Gisa on writing her personal story to help others heal

Sonia Gisa is a professional model who represented Rwanda in Miss Supranational 2015, a competition in which she emerged as Miss Supranational Africa. She is also a survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who is determined to document her story.

The 29-year-old recently released a book entitled, “Slaughter Baby” that compellingly tells her story of survival, and other aspects of her life. She says that she started writing the book in 2016, hoping it would be an inspiration to many.

 

“Writing is something I have always loved to do. I started with the aim of just publishing, but later on, realized that I could use my life experience to inspire others and heal them,” she says.

 

Her book, "Slaughter Baby",  is a tale about Gisa’s life as a 3-year-old toddler during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

 

Her life took a drastic turn on the night of April 6, 1994, when the plane of the former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s was shot down. Her parents gathered all the children in the living room and closed all the windows as the house was engulfed by fear of what was going to happen.

Sonia Gisa, 29, is a Rwandan professional model who participated in Miss Supranational 2015. /Courtesy photos.

At just 3, Gisa was selected to pray for the family, which she did, but upon beginning her prayer, she was stopped abruptly as they had to flee for their lives as attacks targeting Tutsis began.

 Long journey

From the then Commune Kibuye, now Karongi District, they took a long journey heading to the Southern Province. Soon Gisa was no longer able to walk. Her 14-year-old sister carried her on her back.

As they continued their escape journey, the weather got colder and she developed a cold, which led to sneezing. However, sneezing was a serious problem that could lead to one being spotted.

At some point, the family was hiding in a sorghum field, and Gisa’s mother heard the noise of killers and their dogs in the distance. She immediately put her hand on Gisa’s mouth when she was about to sneeze.

The situation was tense, no one was supposed to speak for they would be discovered. Gisa asked her mother when they would be able to speak again and she jokingly said: “when Jesus returns”.

As fate would have it, her father Gabriel Gashi, who was mostly carrying his radio on the shoulder, to keep tabs on the latest news, made a very heart-breaking decision not to flee with his family.

“This was because men and young boys were the first targets. He was sure that if he was found with us, no one would be spared. Women and children had a little chance to survive as killers felt pity for them sometimes,” Gisa said in an interview with The New Times.

His father, who was killed two days later, had taken a different path and asked his family to disperse as much as possible because it would somehow ensure that not all of them are killed.

Contrary to that, Gisa’s mother, Esperance Butanga, felt that it was not worth it if one survived while the rest were massacred.

“What a sad and unhappy existence would that be,” the mother would say, urging them to always be together.

After a long journey, they reached the Southern Province and took shelter at the headquarters of the congregation of religious Marist brothers in Ruhango district, which is currently Ecole des Science Byimana.

They spent two nights there but realized that the Interahamwe militia were getting closer. The head of the Brothers accompanied the group of refugees to Saint Joseph Kabgayi, after two nights, in order to seek a new sanctuary.

As days passed under the protection of Josephite brothers, food provided by the school was exhausted and water was cut off.

“I remember one evening I went out and started eating some herbs in the garden. Surprisingly some had a good salty taste and I sort of got satisfied with it,” Gisa recalls.

She added that the other refugees had nicknamed her “I am hungry” due to repeating the phrase over and over. They stayed at the place till the end of the genocide in July 1994.

State of trauma

She says that she still does not understand how they survived. She adds that despite the general propaganda, there were some Hutu neighbours in the former Gitarama Commune who were really nice to them because they used to bring some food for the refugees in the school.

She describes her state of mind during the period as traumatic, lost, confused, and lonely as they did not know what to expect tomorrow.

The 130-pages’ book also contains her life journey, from Rwanda to Belgium and England as well as her fashion career. The fashion model adds that she is planning to write more books as time goes by.

The model is also an actress and has appeared in movies like, “Ratrappage” and “Very Valentine”. She currently works with a London-based modeling agency.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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