A delegation of senior RPF-Inkotanyi cadres, last week, visited and paid homage to a woman who, as a child, did not only risk her life when rescuing a baby girl during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but also faced immense challenges to care for and raise the child.
Grace Uwamahoro, a resident of Rugarama Cell in Nyamirambo Sector, is among the more than 200 known Indakemwa (the Righteous), Hutu and foreigners who saved the Tutsi in 1994.
Seated in a white tent erected on her small neat lawn, the delegation, led by MP Esperance Mwiza, was welcomed by a jovial Uwamahoro amid the afternoon downpour.
Mwiza said Rwandans should draw vital lessons from Uwamahoro’s exemplary kindness, and bravery.
“Our party is here to show gratitude for your nobility. We thank you for the great courage. At a tender age you rescued a child. This is something all of us Rwandans should value greatly,” she said.
“The life that Uwamahoro valued is the same life that the RPF valued when liberating this nation. Uwamahoro’s heroism is indeed, an act that everyone must be thankful for. At a time when the elderly turned into beasts, a time when they lost their humanity, a young child stood as a noble.”
Uwamahoro – herself an orphan – is held in high esteem, especially as she raised a child without a solid support system. Her adopted daughter, Vanessa Uwase, is now a young woman of character, looking to study political science at university.
Once she starts working, Uwase who is now in Senior Six says she will do everything in her means to provide for Uwamahoro.
In April 1994, as the regime that masterminded the Genocide was falling, Uwamahoro, then only about 11 years old, and her grandmother joined a horde of fleeing people.
Somewhere in Gitarama, she defied her guardian and picked up a baby girl who was laying on top of her mother.
The child’s maimed mother, she recalls, lay helplessly among dead bodies, waiting to breathe her last.
The baby girl, though soaked in its mother’s blood, was unhurt. Despite “numerous warnings,” Uwamahoro took the infant and trekked on. She stayed with her; until they returned home together, from DR Congo, over a year later.
“We must all understand that being a hero has nothing to do with being dominant or so strong. Uwamahoro didn’t know where she was going but she took charge of another human being’s life at her own life’s risk. Had we had a million Uwamahoros, no Genocide would have happened,” Mwiza said.
Uwamahoro never went to school. She can neither read nor write. For survival, she runs a small grocery business in Nyabugogo. She is now married and has two other children – a 6-year-old girl and a baby boy.
‘God will bless you’
Uwamahoro vividly remembers her short conversation with Uwase’s dying mother, 21 years ago. It started moments after she noticed the latter’s frail arm, seemingly, signaling for help.
Others around her were paying no heed. When she approached the heap of bodies, the woman said, “Take this child. God will bless you,” Uwamahoro recalls.
“My grandmother reprimanded me. She said, ‘do you want to get us killed too?’ but I asked them to move on and let me follow behind. I also requested for a better cloth to cover the child’s bloodied garments to erase suspicion.
“I cleaned the blood off the baby and covered her with a cleaner cloth. I carried the baby, mostly at night, for days until we reached Gisenyi and later DR Congo.”
Uwamahoro has horrifying memories of a “very hard” time in the DRC, especially in Katale refugee camp, where majority of Interahamwe militia camped.
She recalls a time when they spent four days without food or water. She left the baby with a group that did not know her secret and wandered far away in the jungle to find water.
Fortunately, that night, it rained and the people back at the volcanic rock-covered landscape that was their temporally abode, were able to tap rain water. They gave some to the baby.
“I, too, would have died. It rained and we also used leaves to drink rain water and get the strength to continue walking. When we got back, they told me that ‘your child would have died had it not been for the rain’ and I know it was true,” Uwamahoro says.
Uwamahoro returned to Rwanda some time in 1996 and a year later, she registered Uwase into kindergarten in the Umusezero neighborhood of Gisozi Sector.
Uwamahoro’s eyes often sparkle with pride whenever she recounts how she worked tirelessly to raise and educate her child.
“I was aware of my responsibilities. I provided for what I could,” she says.