She has intense focus on being on the sole mission to surmount the hurdles that face Genocide survivors like her. As a now fully grown college going girl, having survived the horrors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as it was unleashed in Gitarama in April, while she was only eight years, Noella Abijuru recounts the sad events with alarming clarity.
“I remember the genocide as if it happened only yesterday. 1994 will forever remain imprinted in my memory. How can I forget the events that saw my father being taken away by our neighbours only to be butchered so brutally?”
This was her response to my opening question. I asked her whether she could clearly recall the events given since she was only eight years old in 1994.
Prior to the events of 1994 Abijuru lived in a family of four in Gitarama town. Her dad was the sole bread winner in the family. “Having been born in 1985, life seemed relatively fine for us until my father was killed.
I have seen and experienced a lot of challenges in life as a survivor of the genocide but that has only shaped my resolve to be who I want to be in life”, she says as she refers to her ambition to be a top hotelier in life.
Her tale is of a typical Genocide survivor that can be termed as a miraculous escape from hell and back to mother earth. The rest of Abijuru’s family survived through the grace of a close family friend known as Laurent. Despite being a Hutu neigbour, Laurent saw the futility of participating in the killing.
“Laurent as a family friend who saved us, was rather a special sort of a person. Not only was he close to us but he reasoned in a different way from the other neighbours who blindly accepted the orders to kill Tutsi in Gitarama”, she recalls.
When the killings started in April 1994, Noella’s father was taken away by close neighbours and killed. It was only after the Gacaca proceedings in 1999 that the killers would reveal the spot they dumped her father’s body.
Laurent was deeply moved by the killing of Noella’s father and so he organised for the rest of her family to hide in his bedroom.
For over two months, neighbours relentlessly hunted down the rest of Noella’s family and other Tutsi within the vicinity of Gitarama town.
But it was not long before neigbours started suspecting Laurent to be secretly hiding some Tutsi in his house. “It was extremely difficult to stay under cover for two months before suspicion started surfacing to the effect that we were still alive”.
Consequently, Laurent organised to move Noella and the rest of her family to another house belonging to another sympathiser on the outskirts of Gitarama.
The escape from Gitarama to its outskirts was another stroke of luck for the surviving family as they had to circumvent all the road blocks and the patrolling gangs of militia and army units that had descended on Gitarama town after the shooting down of the plane of the late Juvenile Habyarimana.
“But Laurent and other sympathizers were firm in their thinking that help would soon be forthcoming for the survivors in Gitarama.
When the troops of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) reached Gitarama, they had to employ their classic tactics to save us from death”.
In their second house where they hid, a house boy happened to be an ex-soldier of the government forces (Ex-FAR) , but who had stern instructions not to reveal that there were Tutsi hiding nearby.
When the RPA troops came to rescue the Tutsi in the area, they posed as government soldiers on routine patrol.RPA soldiers did not want to jeopardize the true thinking driving sympathizers who hid Tutsi within the local communities. The trick worked well.
Hiding a Tutsi during the Genocide was a sure death sentence for any Hutu at that time.
“RPA came disguised as government forces coming to take us for slaughter,” she recalls. And so Abijuru and the rest of her family was saved from death.
After surviving Genocide her life as an internally displaced person in Musambira in present day Kamonyi within the Southern Province was not a bed of roses.
“What happened when you met the people who killed your father at the Gacaca trials and later on in life how did you cope up with people who had tried so hard to kill your entire family?
I wanted to know how such survivors led their lives in the midst of the killers after the genocide.
“It is very hard to hear the story and even to absorb it. How the killing was carried out. It is even more difficult to be told that so and so hunted your family down with the intention of killing all of you.”
The Gacaca courts gave life sentences to the key suspects who killed Abijuru’s father.
Fast forward to 2011.
Abijuru studies at Akilah Institute for women taking a course in leadership skills with a focus on hotel management. The institution is located at Kibagabaga within the outskirts of Kigali City.
“My learning institution has helped me a lot to undertake my transformation that I needed in life. We are given critical skills that come along with creating new hope for us. This is a very refreshing thing.”
“I have started a completely new life. I am seeking my own success in life. In that adventure, I look at it as a solo mission,” she says.
Not withstanding the obstacles as someone brought up without a father, she has to move on.
“Yes, I must say that it is difficult, but somehow one must gather the strength to carry on with the mission I seek for a better life ahead”.
Abijuru is quick to point out that she uses her role models as father figures and that has helped her a lot.
“Looking up to such successful figures gives hope to some of us that the road ahead will be fruitful. That keeps me going on and on”.
The persistence has paid off. She is soon flying out to Hong Kong to finalise her studies. Through such opportunities, Abijuru thinks that the sky is the limit for her and fellow survivors.
Her brother is also studying at a local university while her mum lives in Gitarama. She hopes and dreams of owning a top hotel in town.
Abijuru also narrates her current relationship with some of her neigbours at Gitarama.
“I have started to accept the situation of forgiving based on reconciliation. On one side, you need to focus more on the future rather than the past,” she says.
She speaks about her neighbours attititude 16 years down the road.
“What I see is that they try so hard to offer love to me. Which is actually genuine. They try to connect with me and to be friendly which is amazing.
Much as I see remorse on their part for the ugly past, I also see a genuine feeling of trying to reach out to us.”
“My thinking is that, particular attention must be given to history. We need to educate our new generation about what happened even as we forge ahead with nation building. It is good for people to be told about the source of our dark past”.
“Do not let your dark past distort or determine your brighter future. Yes, we have a dark ugly past but that should not mean that our future must also be dark.”
According to Abijuru, in Rwanda hope is when opportunities meet preparations. There is so much happening around. She says that the younger generation only needs to prepare in order to partake in the on going reconstruction. The young segments of society need to work harder to meet their future goals in life.