Diane is a Rwandan who teaches Sunday school with Jessica Goldschmidt at her church in Kigali. She recently shared her testimony at a ‘Walk to Remember’ event during the Rwanda’s Genocide commemoration week…
When I turned four in June 1994, I was facing the hardest moments of my short life and I’m not sure if, even 23 years later, I can describe exactly what happened and how I felt.
I do hold memories from before those days. One of the best was with my father, Emmanuel James Kayitare, dancing in the house together to Bob Marley’s songs. He had a sense of humour, yet was a careful man. It took him a while to choose his bride and our mother, Velene Wibabara. She was quiet, caring and made sure we children had all we needed. She was also very neat, and beautiful! My sister, Fiona, one year and ten months older than me, surely inherited all that from her.
From left to right: Fiona, Diane and Jessica Goldschmidt.
In 1993, my father took my mum, sister and me to seek refuge in Burundi. We lived in Bujumbura for six months, while he stayed working in Rwanda. He visited us often. We lived with the late Dr. Alphonse and his wife Mediatrice. They had just got married, but didn’t mind us living in their home. We returned to Rwanda before April 1994, after the peace agreement was signed between the Rwandan government and the Rwandese Patriotic Font (RPF).
Then one day, in April 1994, the day like no other came, and we witnessed our parents being killed. It happened in Nyamirambo where we lived. Soldiers and Hutu civilians came through our blue entry gate, restraining our dad like a convicted criminal. My father looked terrified as they dragged him inside our compound. The next thing I remember was seeing him for the last time, lying dead on our living-room couch. To this day, I believe much of his fear was for us.
We were forced to stay with our mother and the killers ordered us to sit on the back yard ground. She was hit often, with a big, thick stick used to smash isombe (cassava leaves) and her blood was flowing. My mother had a Bible in her hand and she didn’t let it go until she lost consciousness. I don’t remember seeing my father being shot, yet both parents were murdered that day.
I don’t remember hiding in the bushes or anywhere. I was scared and worried, but at least my sister and I stayed together. A soldier yanked us from our Kigali house and we left behind the dead bodies of our beloved parents. I remember walking and walking… we were helpless, yet our lives were spared and only God knows why and how.
The soldier left us somewhere on the road in Gitarama after walking for hours, because he was scared of RPF Inkotanyi. As a white priest drove by, he saw us alone on the road, and decided to drive us to a camp in Kibuye. A Rwandan refugee called Madeleine felt sorry for us and took care of us at the camp. We got different diseases, mostly due to malnutrition. When the genocide ended we returned to Kigali.
Fiona provided Madeleine with a little information about our parents, helping her to trace our dad’s colleague at US-AID. He contacted a man called Wyclef, our father’s close friend, who found us with Madeleine in Gitega. Wyclef and Jeanne (our current guardian’s youngest daughter) found us in bad shape, scared and traumatised, barely able to talk or eat. When asked, we could answer a few questions.
For a few months Wyclef welcomed us into his home. He fed us and we started to regain physical strength. My sister and I were, he said, inseparable. In a short time we moved out of his house and in with our current guardian, Grandma Helene K. Murekezi. It was now 1995. She welcomed us with open arms, and in time with her we also found a rhythm of life. We still live with her until today. Ironically, the late Dr. Alphonse, our protector in Burundi, was Grandma Helene’s oldest son. Bless her and her family!
We never got a chance to bury our parents. Like others, we have been told their bodies might be at the Kigali Genocide Memorial site.
With gratitude today and every day, we thank God for everything he has done for us through different ways. We thank the current government of Rwanda for all it has done for Rwandans to be where we are today. We thank Madeleine for taking care of us when she also needed help, and for making sure we were in good hands. We thank Grandma Helene (a.k.a Mama-Mukuru) and her family for allowing God to use them in giving us safe haven, and loving and raising us, for the past 22 years. They were true friends with our grandparents, and father. We thank Dr. Gasasira for giving us free medical treatment over these 22 years, he was a very good friend of our father. And we thank the US Embassy and US-AID staff for supporting us to complete our studies, showing they care about their former colleagues’ families.