Damas Mutezintare Gisimba, 53, rescuer
Damas was the Director of the Gisimba Orphanage when the Genocide against Tutsi began. The orphanage was set up in 1980 by the Gisimba family and is located in Kigali.
When the killings intensified, the orphanage (built to accommodate 60 orphans) became a shelter for 400 people. “I had no choice. I couldn’t refuse to help those who were running to us,” Gisimba says. In the month of July, they killed the social workers and others who were hiding in the ceiling above the kitchen. “We were no longer scared of dying. We lived with death. I could not be scared in front of the children” he adds.
Hate radio station RTLM (Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines) encouraged the Interahamwe militia to attack the orphanage and Gisimba could no longer protect those who had sought refuge there.
Carl Wilkens, the only American who stayed in Rwanda during the Genocide, pleaded with international organisations and the Prime Minister to save the orphanage. As a result, all those who were hiding were evacuated to a safer place.
After the Genocide, Gisimba remained the Director of the orphanage, hosting over a thousand children. President Paul Kagame recognised and awarded Gisimba for his courage in 2006.
Josephine Murebwayire, 61, survivor
Josephine fled to the Ndera Petit Séminaire on the April 7, 1994 after the Interahamwe militia attacked her house. Being a devoted catholic, she believed she could find protection at the seminary. Her hope was short lived when, three days later, the Interahamwe attacked. “Almost everyone was killed in that attack”, she says.
When she regained consciousness a day later, she had machete wounds and her entire family including husband, six children (three boys and three girls) and one adopted child had been all killed.
For 21 days, with her severe injuries, she remained hidden in the latrines, until she was rescued by a soldier from the Rwandan Patriotic Army. After recovering, Josephine adopted five children whose parents were killed at Ndera Petit Séminaire.
“No Rwandan child deserve to cry again. I will take care of them until I can’t,” she says.
Now a member of Avega-Agahozo, an association of widows of the Genocide, she has dedicated herself to improving the lives of women and girl survivors. She also works as a mediator between perpetrators and victims. She has given many public talks on forgiveness, Gacaca, the community-based justice system and the Ndi Umunyarwanda programme, which aims to foster a strong sense of national identity to improve social cohesion.
Silas Ntamfurayishyari, 46, rescuer
Silas started to notice how Tutsi were being discriminated against when a girl joined his primary six class. “Other students laughed and abused her in class. I was young and I couldn’t do much,” he says.
When he went to apply for an identity card, Silas said that he was a Tutsi. He believed that he was strong and powerful enough not to be harassed. Later on, when he wanted to join the army, his uncle had to intervene, explaining that he was not actually a Tutsi.
With his uncle’s support, Silas was allowed to enter the army. In 1990, when he was a soldier in Gako, Bugesera District, he was placed at roadblocks to identify and stop Tutsi but he would try to help them instead. During the Genocide, he accompanied 17 people to cross the border to Burundi before being recruited by the Rwandan Patriotic Army.
Silas Ntampfurayisyari is now retired, and advocates for the unity and reconciliation processes underway across Rwanda.
Grace Uwamahoro, 34, rescuer
Grace was 13 years old during the Genocide against the Tutsi. When her and her family were fleeing from Gisozi to Gitarama on the way to Goma in the DRC, she saw a gravely wounded mother with a baby alongside the road.
“She could not talk but she used signs to ask me to take the baby,” Grace says. “My grandmother didn’t want me to take the baby and asked me not to walk in the same direction as them.”
Grace took the baby to a refugee camp in the DRC and called her Vanessa. Whenever people questioned the presence of the baby, she replied that it was her cousin. She resisted the pressure of her relatives who wanted her to abandon Vanessa.
After the Genocide, Grace did not return to school and instead started to sell vegetables. She did this so she could raise Vanessa. Vanessa is now completing her final year of secondary school at Maranyundo Girls School and still lives with Grace.
Father Eros Borile, 60, rescuer
Father Borile, an Italian Catholic priest, was the Director of Saint Antoine Orphanage in Nyanza during the Genocide. When other priests fled the country, he decided to stay and protect people who sought refuge at the orphanage, especially children. During the Genocide he fell sick and was advised to fly home for a treatment. He declined until another priest came to stay with the displaced people. It is estimated that 800 people survived thanks to him. Father Borile’s mission in Rwanda ended in 2014 and he was rewarded for his courageous acts back in Italy.