For anyone entering into Kigali, from any direction, Sainte Famille church is the first landmark that catches the eye. The more than a hundred-years old red-brick building was once the jewel of the Catholic Church.
Adjacent to it is St. Paul, another church establishment. Both occupy a very large part of Kigali’s prime real estate that can accommodate tens of thousands of people.
That is what happened in 1994 when the large-scale massacres of Tutsis began. With nowhere else to run to, the only place of safety were churches, or so they thought.
Tutsis from Muhima, Kiyovu and Kacyiru who had managed to survive in the first days of the killings sought shelter at Sainte Famille and St. Paul.
As the war raged on, Interahamwe militia with the help of Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, would come and take a few Tutsis never to be seen again.
Another place that held many refugees was Amahoro Stadium that had a mixture of both Hutus and Tutsis. A deal was struck between the interim government and the RPF to “exchange refugees”; those in RPF-controlled zones who wanted to move to the government zone and vice-versa.
The exchange took place at the Kimihurura roundabout. That is how those who had sought refuge at Mille Collines hotel were saved.
The genocidal government was livid with anger that many prominent Tutsi had escaped them and decided to do away with those remaining.
On June 14, 1994, 135 young men at Sainte Famille were taken away and killed; the next day they took more. RPF decided to act when on the night of June 16 – the day of the African Child – it mounted a rescue operation behind enemy lines and evacuated hundreds.
Many young children were saved on that day and they, more than any other, better identify with the significance of June 16.