Basketball became my refuge after Genocide, says survivor

AS an orphan without a home and family to turn to, Kalima D. Kizito used basketball to overcome the horrors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Kalima Kizito a previous confence as a peace activitist in the US. The New Times / courtesy.
Kalima Kizito a previous confence as a peace activitist in the US. The New Times / courtesy.

AS an orphan without a home and family to turn to, Kalima D. Kizito used basketball to overcome the horrors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Kizito who lives in indiana, USA told Times Sport in an exclusive interview over the weekend on how he survived death four times after being struck by machetes in his birth place Nyanza, Southern Province during the Genocide

“April 1994, I lay bleeding in a ditch littered with dead bodies, after being struck by a machete, staring at the sky waiting to die. Surviving four times near death situations, I hid in swamps where I spent two months before I was liberated by RPF/Inkotanyi.”

“As an orphan without a home and family to turn to, sport became my refuge.”


He lamented that as a teenager towering at nearly 6’6 (2 meters) during the Genocide, he had no aspirations of playing sports professionally.

“Back then sports was merely a hobby. I was extremely passionate about sports. I remember making a soccer ball out of plastic bags and rubber bands as a young boy, playing volleyball and soccer regularly with kids in my neighborhood and going home at night covered in dirt after playing any sport.”

While he loved sports, he never saw it as a means to an end. “I longed to be a judge or a university professor as my father was a well-respected educator and a community leader.”

“My family history was rooted in academia. Though tall and athletic, each of my nine siblings focused not on building their muscles, rather they sought to enlighten their minds.”

The Genocide and the sequence of events completely changed his outlook and ultimately his destiny. “After losing my parents, a sibling, countless aunts uncles and cousins during the Genocide I found myself isolated and angry.”

The only refuge left for him was sports. “I had heard of this game called basketball as a child. However, I had never picked up basketball until after the Genocide.”

After reading and learning about athletes such as Dikembe Mutombo, Manute Bol and Hakeem Olajuwon, he began to realise the power that this sport had in terms of offering opportunity to young talented African athletes.


After the Genocide, he convinced a local NGO to give him a ball and began to immerse himself into the sport.

“I lived, breathed and ate basketball. My efforts and passion led me to play for Progressive High School in Bweyogerere, Kampala in Uganda as well as a basketball club called the Falcons.”

“We did not possess the fancy uniforms that I saw on TV or play in the fancy wooden courts as professional American basketball players did.”

“Our passion was undeniable. Each day I woke at dawn, went to school, then walked several kilometers each day only to engage in grueling practice. My efforts paid off in the form of an opportunity to come to America.”

Fast forward to July 1998, Kizito was standing 6’9’’ (2.06 meters) on board a 747 British Airways headed to the US.

When asked how he was able to get the lifetime opportunity, he only answered with one word, Basketball.

His basketball career continued through high school in Chicago, Illinois, USA and he was being recruited by many major colleges and university.

However, his citizenship status hindered him from playing in a division one school. “Still determined I ended up playing at Indiana University South Bend, until I was ultimately permanently sidelined due to an injury when I ruptured my Achilles tendon.

“I was devastated. Basketball had been my therapy. I had replaced the images and horrors that I had witnessed during the Genocide with the high I felt when I played the game I loved.”

“My height was my main undoing during the Genocide but it had also allowed me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.”

Gradually, he learned that he could find happiness in other areas when he married and adopted two young Rwandan Genocide survivors who needed a permanent home and a loving family.

“I currently pour my energy into sharing my story of survival in an effort to encourage and inspire others. My love for the game that changed my life, however, remains strong.”

“I continue to feel a sense of euphoria when I step on the court. Watching basketball at any level, played by anyone, men, women, children, domestic, international, still brings me joy.”

“While basketball does not wholly define me as a person, it is certainly an undeniable part of me. I survived the Genocide by the grace of God. I believe that God had a larger purpose for my life.”


Kizito further adds that the game he loved helped him overcome the after effects of Genocide. “Rather than turning to drugs, alcohol, or the streets I turned to sports and I am happy to say that basketball saved my life.”

The 34-year-old, holds a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and currently works as a Senior Case Manager for IMPACT program which is a government sponsored scheme that helps ex-offenders and low income families to become self-sufficient economically through job training and job placement.

He is also the co-founder of Amahoro Project for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, a grass roots movement that focuses on removing all obstacles to genuine reconciliation.

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