Genocide: A seven year old girl’s battle for survival

Ange Umuraganyurwa (centre) narrates her ordeal last week as employees of Kigali Marriott Hotel paid tribute to victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Courtesy.

Ange Umuraganyurwa was seven years old when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out.

Born in a family of seven, she was living a normal life with her siblings and parents at home in what is now Bugesera District in the Eastern Province.April was usually a time when students were in holidays, and as usual, every one of the children wanted to visit their grandmother in Kigali.

Their father, not wanting all of them to go, devised a rather smart way to say no to some of them.He wrote ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on small pieces of paper, folded them and asked the children to pick one.The one who picked a ‘yes’ would be the one to visit their grandmother. Of all the seven papers, only one carried a yes, and it was Umuraganyurwa who picked it.

Happy to go, she bid home farewell, little did she know it was God’s escape plan for her. That was the last time she would see her family. The Genocide started shortly after and claimed all of them.

By God’s Grace, she would survive in Kigali in the most extraordinary terms.

Disaster in Kigali

She arrived in Nyamirambo, where she would spend some time with her grandmother. Her visit was supposed to end on April 7, the unfortunate day on which the Genocide against the Tutsi started.

On that day, the little girl knew that her time to go back home had come, and so she reminded her grandmother about letting her go home.

“They told me that it was not possible. They said killings targeting Tutsis had started, and roads had been blocked,” she recalls.

Although she was still a child, she understood what it meant. At school, she had encountered problems related to ethnicity. Sometimes in class they would be told to do certain things according to their ethnicities. At such a tender age, she knew she was a Tutsi. She also knew that Tutsis were not loved.

She also knew that at times, Tutsis had to flee for safety. She had been only five years old in 1992 when there were killings against Tutsis in Bugesera. She and her family had to seek relief in a church.

“That was the time they killed Locatelli, a white woman who was trying to protect Tutsis,” she recalls.

With such memories, it was a disturbing time for them. That night, she says they didn’t sleep

“A hail of bullets were heard for long hours during the night. Soldiers had started killing people,” she recounted.

They managed to survive for two weeks, after which an uncle in the vicinity was attacked and wounded along with his wife.

“Although they did not die, they were feeble, so, they were brought to her grandmother’s house”.

Being a pastor, the uncle had done some good workfor neighbours, and they loved him. Some who were Hutus ignored the call to kill him. A nurse who lived nearby always came to treat their wounds.They looked to be on their road to recovery, until one fateful day.

“I remember it was in the morning,” she recalled.

“We were sleeping and someone pushed the window and said, ‘Come out or I come and finish you from inside. My Uncle told him, we cannot come out. ‘Come and find us inside’”.

Hearing the threats of the killer, Ange covered herself with a bed cover. She was in the same bed with her grandmother, Uncle and his wife.

The killer came in, fired many bullets into the bed, killing all the three, but the girl survived with an injury in her left arm.

The room was polluted with gun smoke. Thinking that the killer was still around, she stayed in bed for hours with the lifeless bodies of her relatives. She rose up later, looked around, and the killer was not there.

“I went outside, looked around different places and made sure that the killer had left”.

Despite surviving the first round killings, Ange didn’t know where to begin. She sat down outside. Looters came to carry things from the house. They didn’t hurt her, but she really knew that if she stayed for long, the worst would happen.

“I felt in my heart that if I stay the killers will come for me as well.”

The next destination was neighbours’ homes, to see if anyone would help. The home she entered first belonged to a couple; the husband was Hutu and the wife Tutsi.

“My hand was bleeding, and my dress was bloody. They said to me, ‘Haven’t you come to make us targets? They will come and kill you and us as well,’ they told me,” she says.

The wife got a piece of cloth and tried to wipe blood that was flowing from her arm. They gave her some food, and advised her to look for refugee elsewhere, probably an orphanage.

She embarked on the journey to nowhere. It was around 5pm, when she left. She walked until the cover of darkness.

“I entered a home without knocking. I felt I wanted to die. I said, if I find killers, let them kill me,” she said.

An old woman was there to receive her. Seeing a bleeding young girl, she asked what had happened. The little girl explained, and the lady was kind enough to offer her a place to sleep for the night.

“‘I have a son who is part of the Interahamwe killers’” she said, adding “I don’t want him to find you here. So, you have to wake up very early in the morning and leave.”

“I didn’t sleep the whole night,” Ange recalled.“I was waiting for the morning to come so that I could go”.

As early as 4am, she was up.

“I told her, thank you grandmother, I am gone”.

Meeting “Angels”

Walking for the second day was challenging. Her arm was still bleeding, her dress was dirty and bloody, but for some reason, she did not give up.

She wandered the whole day, never staying in one place until evening when she found two kind men.

“I think they were angels that God had sent to me. I didn’t know them; they saw me and asked me, ‘Where are you going. We see you bleeding’”.

She told them her story. They were compassionate and took her to a hospital where she was treated.

They didn’t leave her. From here, they took her to Gitega orphanage where she stayed until the end of the Genocide.

Surviving for the second time

She got lucky again when she left the orphanage to go for treatment at a nearby clinic one day when killers attacked the orphanage, hit it with grenades and killed some children. After the attack, the children were shifted to EcoleFrancaise in Rugunga. This is where she remained until Inkotanyi conquered the city.

After the genocideshe was saddened to learn about the death of her family. Five of her six siblings had died in Bugesera alongside her parents.Yet, there was some glimmer of hope when met a family member that had survived, along with her elder sister who had for some reason was in a safe place in Kigali during the killings.

She recognises that her chances of surviving was in her coming to Kigali.

 “I thank God I came to Kigali. I would also have died. It was God’s plan, He wanted to save me.”

Umuraganyurwa is now an employee of Kigali Marriott hotel and a mother of one child.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com