How Guilt Ruined My Childhood

Caroline Umugwaneza, is a 28 year-old genocide survivor who is now married with two children and living in Kimironko Sector, Gasabo district.  Umugwaneza narrates of how she spent more than a decade feeling guilty for the genocide crime she didn’t commit.

Caroline Umugwaneza, is a 28 year-old genocide survivor who is now married with two children and living in Kimironko Sector, Gasabo district.  Umugwaneza narrates of how she spent more than a decade feeling guilty for the genocide crime she didn’t commit.

“I grew up in one of Kigali’s suburbs and the genocide started when I was eleven years old. Miraculously my whole family of seven survived, our story of survival is so long, to cut it short, we hide in ceilings, trenches and shrubbery like all other Tutsi families who were being hunted.”

After the genocide, in our neighborhood, my family was the only family that didn’t loose a single person, not because we fought so hard or had better hiding tactics, I believe it was because God protected us.”

One of our neighbour’s and family friend, Mr. Celestin, was among those who survived but unfortunately he lost his whole family. When he learnt that we all survived, we expected him to be at least happy, but he just coiled, and distanced himself from us. We later came to the realisation that it was not only Mr. Celestine who resented us, but the whole neighborhood seemed to accuse us for surviving! ‘How could you all survive?’—were the silently accusations that we faced.  

We didn’t know how to deal with this situation. Most survivors started shunning us, whenever we tried to reach out to them; they thought we were just showing off. Even children we used to play with who lost their parents unleashed the pain on us, “lucky you to have both parents” they’d resentfully tell us.

We felt like out casts. It was even harder to grieve like others. I remember one day, when I met a certain lady who knew us before the Genocide against the Tutsi; she told me about her tragedy and how she lost her whole family.

When she asked about me and my family, I said, ‘Glory be to God, my dad, mum and all my sisters and brothers survived!’; he attitude immediately changed and she looked at me like she was talking to a traitor.

Since I was the youngest in my family, it was easier for older people to verbally vent their anger on me, for they thought I didn’t understand. Even those who didn’t say a word, I read the hatred in their eyes; they felt that God was unfair to them!

At school whenever I passed my tests excellently, they would say, ‘why wouldn’t she? after all she has parents, brothers and sisters.’ If my grades were low, they would say, ‘Shame on you! even orphans are doing better than you.’
 
I resorted to keeping quiet, and kept to myself all the time. I became dull, I lost all the ‘joie de vivre’ as my parents were being busy trying to make ends meet; they didn’t notice my condition until it was almost irreversible! I had no friends, an ice box had replaced the place of my heart, and I hated my brothers and sister for not dying.

I didn’t understand why we were being treated so badly. It was unfair! I didn’t forgive myself and those who mistreated me until I went for counseling. Its only now, that I truly understand what they are going through.

I believe there are so many people out there who are still suffering silently in so many ways. Even though it’s now sixteen years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, I know that for some people the pain is still new and it’s our responsibility to reach out to our sisters and brothers and comfort them in the best way possible.

During this mourning period, the survivours need us more than ever before.”

Martin.bishop18@yahoo.com

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