At the time she lost her siblings and many other relatives at the hands of a genocidal regime and its allied militia, Francine Kampororo was aged 23.
She vividly remembers how her loved ones were slaughtered on a small hill in Gisagara District, the place where thousands of Tutsis were led to before their untimely death during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
I met her in Huye District, and together, we embarked on a long journey to Kabuye hill.
The journey invoked sad memories because she and many other unsuspecting Tutsis were led to the same hill by their would-be assailants.
Save for Kampororo and a handful others, most did not return.
“It’s our Golgotha,” she tells me on our way, in reference to the innocent blood that was spilled on this hill, comparing it to the place outside Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified.
“It was a journey to the cross, I still can’t figure out how I survived”.
Yet even as she reflected on that dark chapter in our country’s history, she did not sound bitter. She recalled how their community was initially at peace with itself just like any other calm neighbourhood.
“But all that evaporated overnight, our neighbours all of a sudden turned against us, they betrayed us, but that’s politics.”
Kabuye, in the rural Gisagara District of the Southern Province, is the small hill in Ndora sector where an estimated 50,000 Tutsis were brutally killed during the Genocide.
Amongst those killed at Kabuye included Kampororo’s family, siblings and many other relatives, friends and neighbours.
They had all gathered there with promises that their security would be assured only to be rounded up and killed.
As we reached the hill, Kampororo reconstructed the murder scene.
From time to time, she pointed to neighbouring hills where she says heavy machine guns had been installed and later used to spray bullets on the crowd of fleeing Tutsis that had been lured to gather at Kabuye.
Later, the Interahamwe militia followed with traditional weapons and killed those who remained alive, she says.
Kampororo says the areas around Kabuye were, in the years before the 1994 Genocide, home to a large number of Tutsis.
“That’s why even those fleeing from other areas were told to come here (at Kabuye) with promises that it would be easier to guarantee their safety. It rather turned out to be a strategy to gather them in one place, so as to easily murder them,” Kampororo says.
Our journey continued with a visit to Gisagara cell, also in Ndora sector, at the exact place where Kampororo’s parents and family members lived before the Genocide.
At that place where houses stood 20 years, today stand plantations of banana, maize and huge sycamore trees, an indication that people once lived there. Between the ‘green’ area stands only one house, occupied by Kampororo’s cousin who ‘survived because he had joined the Rwanda Patriotic Front before the killings erupted, she says.
Smile of hope
As a young girl, Kampororo’s dream was to become a nun. However, when the killings erupted, her dreams were shuttered.
“When the Genocide was stopped and I was miraculously still alive, I felt desperate. I couldn’t clearly see where my life was headed,” Kampororo recalls.
But 20 years down the road, she has a different story to tell; a tale of resilience, optimism, prosperity and sustained life.
“Sometimes I ask myself why I should keep smiling considering the bad experience I went through. But, the moment the question comes up, the answer also surfaces. If I smile, it is because I believe in a brighter future,” Kampororo says.
Today, Kampororo works as a laboratory technician at Gisagara Health Centre. She is also part of a group of Genocide survivors working to uplift their living conditions.
The group is involved in the growing of maize and potatoes for domestic consumption and local markets. This season, they planted maize and potatoes on a four hectare plot of land and expect to harvest them in the near future.
“Today we can afford to feed ourselves and sell the surplus to get money,” she says.
Kampororo has also four cows which she says are supplementing her income. She also owns three modest houses in Ndora, just metres from Gisagara District headquarters.
“Today we have a reason to smile. Orphans have a chance to go to school, vulnerable survivors can access quality health services and, above all Rwandans are more united that ever,” she notes.