Genocide survivor reflects on the time her husband was killed seven months after their wedding, her survival, and single parenting

Umuringa’s restaurnat at Gishushu, Remera. Photos by Hudson Kuteesa

Jacent Umuringa had been married for only seven months when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started.

Her wedding with her husband had taken place on the 19th of September 1993 and  life indeed was taking a sweet turn for her.

Little did she know of a terrifying fate that was awaiting her.

Death was lurking in its darkest form yet she and her husband were expecting their first born child.  It was April 1994 and she was six months pregnant.

They were staying in Remera in Kigali at the time when the killings started.

Women survivors have found solace and hope through support from AVEGA- Agahozo. Courtesy.

It wasn’t long when chaos set in. The gunshots and scary screams marked the beginning of events that would forever change Umuringa’s life.

One day her husband went out and never came back. “When I asked around, they told me that soldiers had taken him and I never saw him again,” she says.

Umuringa lost her husband in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. 

She later came to learn that three other men, who were taken along with her husband, were later released because they had Hutu identity cards. As for her husband, he had been badly beaten and killed.

April 4 was the last day she ever saw the father of her then  unborn child. Hefty with pregnancy, Umuringa had stayed inside the house and waited on her fate.

“I was so scared. Gunshots were all over the place, I tried to hide under the bed but failed because of the pregnancy,” she recalls.

Her fear was even escalated when she overheard passers-by cursing that Tutsis must be killed and finished.

AVEGA has set up income generating activities to help address the needs of its members. Courtesy.

Not sure of where to run, she stayed in her house for about three days, before a neighbouring couple came knocking at her window and offered to hide her. The woman was a Tutsi but her husband was Hutu, this made their home a safer hiding place.

“They told me to come out of my house because they didn’t want me to die from there, so I went to their house,” Umuringa narrates.

The days that followed were filled with sorrow as she thought of her husband’s death. Grief overcame her that she rarely ate or bothered to bathe.

They were later rescued by RPA soldiers who kept them in a safe place.

Activities such as jewellery making serve as a source of income for the survivors. Courtesy.

Nonetheless, Umuringa recalls the immediate days after survival as those that were filled with agony. They survived under poor living conditions and still lived in fear but only hoped that peace was yet to come.

While at an RPA camp in Byumba, Northern Province, Umuringa gave birth but the joy she felt quickly vanished at the thought of her late husband, that when the doctor congratulated her she burst into tears because her husband wasn’t given a chance to see his son he had longed to have.

A plethora of problems streamed in, adding to the pain she had already had. Her baby had no clothing and food; he also suffered from poor health conditions.

As a first time and single mother, Umurigna was at crossroads but she did all she could to endure and manoeuvre.

Coming back home

July 1994 saw her and her baby come back home (in Kigali) to her deserted home.

“I found our home bushy and lonely. I wondered how I was going to live alone. I sat at the veranda and cried,” she recalls.

In those hard moments, her neighbour, the lady who had rescued her showed up and once again she came to her rescue when she offered her a place stay-with her. From then on they both embarked on a journey that would lead them to healing from the trauma and psychological scars of what had happened.

On single motherhood

She was financially challenged and psychologically traumatised, yet in all this, Umuringa had to stand strong and give her child a decent upbringing.

“I got a job when he was about a year old. I could buy milk, sugar, and cater for other needs; but the grief was not going away. I used to sit in the house and cry when I saw where my husband used to sit, “she says.

She led a sad a life that her child did not have a name for a long time for she first wanted to know her family members who had passed on so that she would pick a name for her son.

She later named him Ishimwe, (meaning ‘God be praised), Hubert, after her brother, and Nkurayija, after her late husband.

When her son grew up, he naturally had questions, questions that would bring back pain.

Her husband’s remains have never been identified or recovered, she says.

The now 52-year-old widow never remarried. She has raised her son alone because she was not sure about how a new husband would treat him.

25 years on, Umuringa says she is proud to have raised a prayerful child, one that respects and loves her.

“We plan together. We advise each other. He is a good Christian. He is now 25 years old and has finished his studies and is now working.”

Umuringa herself runs a restaurant at Gishushu, Remera, and says she is still on her way to recovery.

She is a member of AVEGA-Agahozo, an association of Genocide widows.


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