US embassy honours 26 staff killed in Genocide

Fiona Kayitare, 25, was orphaned during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, when her father, Emmanuel James Kayitare, was killed by the Interahamwe militia.
Orphans lit candles as the US embassy staff commemorated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. (Michel Nkurunziza)
Orphans lit candles as the US embassy staff commemorated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. (Michel Nkurunziza)

Fiona Kayitare, 25, was orphaned during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, when her father, Emmanuel James Kayitare, was killed by the Interahamwe militia.

Her father was at the time of his demise employed by the US embassy in Kigali. But at a tender age of six, she and her four year old sister would find themselves in a life of deprivation from the good life they led before.

‘‘We were left helpless, with no basic needs and no support,’’ she says.

‘‘Despite being so young at the time, I remember the men coming home and killing dad in our presence,’’ Kayitare narrated.

As if that was not enough, the interahamwe militia went ahead and hit their mother with a pestle- used to pound isombe (cassa leaves) and she too died as the children watched.

 “They also killed our nanny, we believe only God saved us. We suffered severe malnutrition. A priest picked us up and took us to a refugee camp in Kibuye around June (1994).

‘‘A Tutsi woman identified as Madalene took care of us. We  later came back to Kigali to search for anything left of our family,’’ she says.

In Kigali, they were taken to their grandmother, now 82.

“We have tried to put our past behind. I recently graduated with a bachelors degree in Information Technology from Kigali Independent University. My guardian family has been so supportive,” she adds.

Her younger sister studied law at the same university. She also shared her testimony along other survivors whose stories have been compiled in a book.

 Kayitare is one of the eight orphans who have graduated after benefiting from a Genocide Orphans Fund (GOF) that was created by embassy employees in 2005.

Twenty five are still in school. 

Origene Hakizimana Simbi, 21, is the only survivor from Aloys Hakizimana’s family.

Having been orphaned when she was still a toddler, Simbi says he does not remember his parents.

He was taken by a house girl to one Jean Baptiste Byumvuhore, an artist who fled with him to DR Congo.

He is now in his first year at the University of Rwanda pursuing Biotechnology.

The locally employed staff committee representative, Joseph Rurangwa, said that the employees’ initiative to support orphans’ education was a great step.

He, however, said more efforts are needed to provide internships and jobs for these orphans so that they are able be self sustaining.

 “The book of testimonies is a tool of truth that will help  defeat Genocide denial in Rwanda and abroad.  This was achieved in collaboration with United States,” Rurangwa said.

The US ambassador to Rwanda, Erica Barks-Ruggles, said she is inspired by the perseverance and resilience of the Rwandan people.

“Rwanda has grown and recovered at an unimaginable pace. I saw the beauty and kindness of Rwanda and her people, but it is hard for us to link it to the past.

‘‘Victims left a wide gap that we have to fill so as to build a bright future. Let them be a source of inspiration to improvement of the different sectors such as economy, health, education, infrastructure and others,” she said.

The envoy pledged more support toward rebuilding the nation, and fighting Genocide denial and revisionism.

Dr Jean Damascene Gasanabo, the Director General of Research and Documentation Centre on Denocide at the National Commission for the fight against Genocide, appealed to countries hosting fugitives and Genocide deniers to bring them to book.

 “There are still over 1,000 Genocide fugitives abroad in different continents. We want them arrested and prosecuted or sent to Rwanda to face justice. We simply need collaboration with host countries,” he said.

Gasanabo said despite the progress Rwanda has made, there is need for more efforts to deal with consequences of the Genocide.

“There are still genocidaires in DR Congo and deniers. We appreciate the firm stand by the US and we need many others to emulate it so as to curb impunity,” he added.

He noted that commemorating is a symbol of  dignity given to the more than one million Rwandans who lost their lives during the Genocide.

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