Oral Testimony of MUTEZINTARE Gisimba Damas

  
  
  
  
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Id:Kmc00016-sub1-eng-glifos
Title:Oral Testimony of MUTEZINTARE Gisimba Damas
Sequence:1 of 1
Abstract:The oral testimony of MUTEZINTARE Gisimba Damas, a Rescuer during the Genocide Against the Tutsi, recorded by the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda. The testimony is given in Kinyarwanda, with English transcript and subtitles available.
Contributor: Aegis Trust (UK)
Publisher:Kigali Genocide Memorial
Interview Date: 2007-07-22
Language:kin
Rights:Kigali Genocide Memorial, Kigali, Rwanda
Subject Headings: Genocide--Rwanda--History--20th century
Genocide-Rwanda--Rescuer
Testimony--Rwanda
Tutsi (African people)--Interviews
Tutsi (African people)--Crimes against--Rwanda
Rwanda--Ethnic Relations--History--20th Century
Rwanda--History--Civil War, 1994--Atrocities
Creator: Mutezintare Gisimba Damas; Kigali Genocide Memorial
Formats: mini-DV tape
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Testimony of Gisimba Damas
Martin: Today is 22nd February 2007 and we are at Gisimba orphanage. As we all know during 1994 Genocide about 400 people managed to survive here. We are here with Gisimba Damas and he is going to tell us in detail how people survived here. Gisimba Damas, maybe you can start by introducing yourself.
Gisimba: My name is Mutezintare Gisimba Damas. I was born in Zaire, currently known as Congo, in 1961. I live here in Rwezamenyo, Kabuguru II.
Martin: We would like you to tell us, like I had mentioned it earlier, how people survived here. How did they manage to get here? After getting here, how did you resist the attacks? Could you tell us in details.
Gisimba: After President Habyarimana’s plane crash, I left my place and went to the orphanage to cool down the kids, to avoid that they get scared, as well as employees who were there. This was because there were grenade explosions and gunfire everywhere.
I went to see the kids and the employees… by the time I got there I found the first three people who had fled to the orphanage. I knew one of them well but the rest I didn’t know them. He was my neighbor and his name is Pio Mugabo. He currently works at the supreme court. I knew him well. We were good friends. He told me that he had received a call from his friend to warn him that the killings had already started in Remera and that some of his friends had already been killed and that they were coming after him…
He immediately came here. He was lucky to have received the phone call. I found him here after some employees had told me that there was an unknown tall man. So I went to check then I found out it was him. He told me about his situation then I told him, ‘well…there is no other option but to stay here.’ I asked him why he had come alone then he replied that he had sent his kids and wife to a pastor who was their neighbour. He had a Zairese pastor who was his good friend.
So we spent the night, no one else came not even the attackers. The following day in the morning, it was on April 7th 1994. That’s when we started seeing people coming from the Swahili part of the city. They came up saying that situation was bad in their neighborhood. But for people in our neighborhood we had not yet been attacked. All these people came to me seeking a refuge. I knew some of them because I had lived in that neighborhood for 19 years. However there were also others I did not know but they all came saying the same thing.
We stayed there. It was until 9th April when we heard that some people in the upper part of the neighborhood had been attacked. That was when we started being attacked. It was at then that most parents decided to send their children to the orphanage and seek refuge in other elsewhere. They requested me to take care of their kids. Therefore kids would come and tell me what they had been through. Some were just 12, 13 years old. They knew me some because I had visited their families on a week end or on my way from church.
(It helped me to know through what the kids were telling me about what had happened to them.)
Some would come saying: ‘the presidential guards killed Dad and Mom but spared us. We left them dead.’ Others would say, ‘our Dad fled and told us to come here.’ Other kids would come with their mothers saying that the father has just been killed. Like I said people started coming in big numbers on 9th April but before there were only few children. But within 10 days, the number went up to 150 children or more.
They kept coming little by little. Even people from Mumena and Kivugiza. They included even young kids that could run. People from Bugarama as well as those from Rugarama came as well. There are also some who came from Butamwa. They all stayed here. As the situation worsened, we became too many. Some kids came from Munanira and Nyakabanda some with their parents. I think by the time Gikondo and Mburabuturo was in a lot of cross fire and Kanombe secured, this place was already full of people.
They went in big group but I could tell that they were kids who didn’t know where they were heading or who had been separated with their parents while fleeing. I would slowly approach them and gently ask them where they were heading? They would reply that they don’t know where their parents were, and that they were coming from Kanombe. I would simply divert them and take them to the orphanage. Those who were lucky to reach the orphanage would be allowed in. But attacks kept on increasing to the extent of entering the orphanage where they found seven people who were hiding in the kitchen ceiling and killed them.
I tried to stop the Interahamwe so that they don’t take this people but I realized that I could lose more. They could kill me and then kill the rest of the people that were still being protected and even destroy everything I had stood for. Due to the resistance I had shown, one Interahamwe came and hit my back with the butt of his gun, I still feel the pain up to now. After that... I came back to my senses and realized that I could lose my life and everything I had protected could also be destroyed.
Among people who were taken from the ceiling by the Interahamwe was Pio’s nephew. They took them tortured them overnight. They cut them with knives and questioned them on how they managed to enter the orphanage and who else was hiding in the orphanage. They simply replied that they came at night and entered the orphanage kitchen to find something to eat and that after finding the food they ate and hid in the ceiling.
That was heroic. They refused to say where the rest of the people was. They knew very well where they were and the house was full. They were heroes because they knew that it was the only way to protect and save their families. They knew that they would not be spared even if they told them where the rest was. They were 8 of them. The following day, on 12th June, they came to steal a social worker who was at the orphanage. A guy named KIGINGI lied to her that he had picked a new born baby and along the way and that he was bringing the baby to the orphanage that he had left the kid in the car.
The merciful social worker went to see the baby and she was immediately thrown in the car and kidnapped. I was at the back, so I came running after some kids had told me of the incident. I found some Interahamwe outside with her kids they knew her kids because they were her neighbours. They said, calling the kids cockroaches that it was their younger siblings who were shooting them down. I was not able to recognize their faces because their faces were covered with towels I could only see their eyes but I managed to get the kids.
Among those kids was a teenage girl then one of Interahamwe told me ‘here is your wife. I wonder there’s no other reason why you can be so protective’ She was younger than she looked. Then I replied, ‘don’t be to be ridiculous! a responsible person like me can’t make such a young girl my wife.’ But on the other hand, you can call her my own sister. I don’t even know where I got the guts, because whenever I intervened, they always respected me even though I never held a gun in my hands.
Then I got those kids and returned them where the rest was. Then I heard some gunfire. I went closer to the source of the sound. I could not dare approaching because Kigingi was a very notorious killer who feared nothing. But whenever we met, he would come down. Soldiers also came from Mount Kigali, Interahamwe had a lot of temper. At first I gave them money but after some days we did not have anymore money to give.
We collected among ourselves but of course not everyone had money. The war started by a surprise most people didn’t bring the money. Be it 1,000Frw or 2,000Frw... we all contributed as much as we could. We tried to see if money could protect us but there was not enough. I only gave the money to the most terrifying killers of the groups. Then as time passed we ran out of money then we started giving them food. When they realized I had food...at that time no market was open so but I was lucky because shortly before the killing, people working for the Red Cross called me to collect some food for Nyacyonga refugees had refused the food saying that it had been poisoned by the Inkotanyi.
So I went there, they gave me a whole container. I was lucky because shortly after that when the war began, an old soldier with a rank of a Sergeant brought us in some porridge flower. I don’t know where he got all that quantity but he told me that it came from St Andre. And he told me that he had brought that as an act of a good Christian. He said, ‘I’m doing because I know that since you look after so many orphans, you need support.’ He also told me that he was not involved in what was taking place because his age and faith do not allow him that.
Kids offloaded the truck. It was a Benz 1113, the army prototype truck used by the army of the former regime. That is how I got the food. But still that wasn’t sufficient considering the number of people that was at the orphanage if the kids were to have two meals a day. The adults would only have one meal a day. Me, I could hardly eat… I was always worried that they would come back and take more people away.
That is how I started to give them food. I would always check the team leader then put him on the side and indirectly bribe him in a discussion whereby I would ask him why he wanted to kill young innocent children. I never mention that there were adults in the orphanage. I always thought it could be a disaster. I engaged smooth conversations with them then give him some food to take home for their family because since markets no longer opened, there was no other place to get food.
Later I became their common target. The situation worsened when they had a meeting at ‘Aritesi’ where the sector’s office had been transferred. In the meeting, it was discussed that the biggest inyenzi was Gisimba. This is because all the targeted people were not dead and that when they first attacked the orphanage they discovered some people in the ceiling of the kitchen. They decided that they should check the ceiling of the whole orphanage to make sure no one was hiding.
Someone came out... it was obvious that they were planning to kill me. He came running. Unfortunately he died recently.... He was a Tutsi but you could not recognize him he had a unique face. Because not all Tutsis had a long nose or...there were some you couldn’t identify as Tutsis. He was the type. So he attended the meeting then afterwards he came out in a rush and told me that my life was over and that I was a target too.
That was when I started thinking of ways I could get protection. Even on RTLM it was broadcasted that I was needed in order to get support for orphans but I said to myself that those were tricks. I decided to go there to know at firsthand was really happening. So I told a neighbour who was well protected by presidential guards because he was married to the president’s cousin. He was a good man.
I went and explained my situation to him then he immediately came with me to find support as it had been announced, if it was real and maybe ask for protection if possible. He was worried after what I had told him and he later told me that he wish he could had done more. He told one of his presidential guards to escort us then we went to the RTLM. I reached, then they directed me to the Director’s office. I entered in his office, we knew each other … because I had attended one of his relatives wedding at some point. I was in charge of protocol at that wedding. A lot of people knew me through those kinds of occasions.
He told me ‘I want us to go to CICR so I can help you get some food aid. The country representative is a very good friend of mine’ then I said ‘okay’. He put me in his car but never told him that I had company. On the way, we talked then he said, ‘these people started genocide but they cannot even stop it. Now it’s over. It’s a genocide! They failed to stop it. They can’t even control it!’ I listened quietly.
Then, we reached CICR we found there Philip Gaillard then we sat and he told him what we were there for. Philip Gaillard told him ’as we all know, you know here very well and you like coffee, you can go ahead and serve yourself there’. While he stood serving coffee, Philip Gaillard told me to be careful with that man. I said: ‘I know‘ but very low.Then, he also stood up and asked me what I was drinking? 'there is beer’ he said, ‘there is Amstel.’ I told him to give me Amstel, I had spent many months without drinking Amstel and my stomach was empty. I drank only one bottle but soon started to feel dizzy. In the meantime as we were still talking, he heard over their radio that Damas was wanted. He replied that he was with me. He told me to go and talk to Carl Wilkins through the radio.
Carl Wilkins was an American Adventist who worked at ADRA a pastor. After he heard that I was in trouble. He came to see me, he could walk freely without anyone attacking him so he came to see me and then I told him the whole situation. He was a pastor full of sympathy. Whenever you could tell him something, tear drops rolled on his cheek. He promised me to bring me water. We didn’t have water at all. It was cut off because it was said that the Inkotanyi had poisoned water. There was no water and no electricity. He promised to visit me and every two days, he brought water that used wisely. We decided that, since we were too many, we should only use water for drinking and coking and for kids also so that they don’t become dehydrated. We also let girls and women have the water as they needed it more than men. No man bathed all that time. We only washed our faces. We had lice in our clothes.
Then Carl Wilkins told me not to leave there. He later told me that he had no means too due to the fact that he had a lot of people that had come to seek refuge. He asked me to try get to St Michel. As we had done all this in secret we had to continue like that. Then we put the food in the Director’s car, his name was Focas. The husband of Nyirasafari Gaudance. Then we left. When we reached the RTLM, he called his driver and said: ‘drive Gisimba to Nyamirambo. He’s taking food to kids’. By chance I knew the driver that was going to take me, he lived in the Swahili part of the city. Then I told him to drop me at St Michel because I wasn’t intending to go to Nyamirambo immediately.
Then he said, ‘thank you so much Gisimba. But never tell that I never took you to Nyamirambo. I haven’t slept for three days...just working. Now I’m going to drop you there then I go to Nyamirambo and rest. Even if I sleep for three hours, my head will feel better’. I said ok. I was lucky it went that was easy.
Reaching St Michel I knew there was a white man named Marc Feuiteur he also had kids there. He was a French. He was astonished and asked me, ‘how come you came alone? how are the kids doing?’ ‘I will tell you’ I replied. Some kids came to help offload the bags, then they put them inside then I told him the story. He was so shocked. I told him that I had left Carl Wilkins in Nyamirambo. Then I added that it is up to God to determine his fate.
At that time Marc Feuteur had on him a walkie-talkie. I asked him to use it to call Carl Wilkins and let him know that I had reached St Michel and that I was with Marc Feuiteur. He told me to remain there and I should not expose myself because it was dangerous I could be killed. When I entered, about one hundred people and fifty Interahamwe with guns entered behind me and when they saw me, they talked to my young brother then they told him that he should tell me that inyenzi had abducted people who were hiding at St Paul and that they continued to do the same thing...that they had come to protect us.
I knew very well that they had come for a different reason. They changed because they saw that I had already entered, I explained to my young brother what had happened. That someone came ahead of them and informed me that they were coming to kill me then kill the rest of the people. Normally when you were caught hiding people like I did, they cut you into pieces or chop your head off or tie you to a car and pull you and then kill the rest...that was a way to show how tough they were. That’s why they hunt down people like me.
I stayed at St Michel cathedral, in the evening, he managed to get like three Gendarme. I think he told me he had left three... I do not know where he got them from. Fortunately at that moment they had walkie-talkies so they must have communicated with UNAMIR and the Police and had told them that we were dead. It was around 20th June. The war had lasted many days and our orphanage was the only place that abided people in hideouts until then. This was the only place where you could find Tutsis that were still alive. All other places like St. Andre, Xaveri and all other place that were involved in charity had been attacked. It was only here that was remaining.
Many people had already died. You could only see them moving around. Interahamwe would keep on moving around; they started shooting each other over misunderstandings on the ownership of things that they had looted. Probably because there was no more people to kill and so on. I stayed there, Carl Wilkins came and told me, ‘I will do a follow up. It’s getting late, I left the Gendarme. Tomorrow I will be meeting the Prefet Renzaho’.
He however, he warned me: ‘keep out of sight because if you come out and be seen, they will take you and if you get killed, they will kill the rest as well.’ They couldn’t kill them before me because they were scared that I would testify against them. Few days later, I don’t know how the rumour got spread that I was dead and that my dead body had been noticed lying at Hotel de Diplomates. This brought their zeal somehow down and decided to wait for orders from their superiors because now they knew they could kill, any time they wished, the rest of the people hiding there without any problem... they always waited for their superiors’ orders.
I stayed at St. Michael but kept in touch with Carl Wilkins. He would come and tell me how the situation was outside; I would always ask him why it was taking longer? He replied that ‘Seeing Renzaho is difficult and many people are waiting to see him’. Some time back I also went there that was when I met that white man Carl Wilkins and told him my story. We kept on meeting.During that time the situation had not become so tense and they had not yet suspected me I was also looking for some help but I could not see him, there were so may Interahamwe I could not see him there was also so many soldiers in his compound he also kept on telling me that it was difficult for him and I understood him. But he comforted me, telling me that they were praying I should not worry the kids and other people shall be found.
Fortunately on 30th June I think… 30th or 31st, that was when he came and told me that the mission is almost complete the rest is in hands of God. He advised us to keep praying, we used to pray with that Frenchman. He would pray to the extent that he was visionary. There was a time he could tell kids ‘be careful, be careful’. Then suddenly a rocket would drop in the compound, it was as if he talked to God.
Then that was when he told me to remain praying. At 5pm or 4:30pm I had managed to negotiate to get buses, I was still negotiating which way to pass in order to reach here, because there was a lot of powerful roadblocks in Gitega. So we remained seated attentively, they were still there withholding their positions. At Gitega, there was a very dangerous roadblock. Those Interahamwe could shoot at your car anytime you would pass by.
Fortunately around 4.30 pm or 5 pm, we were so worried that they might be dead. It was until 6 pm that the bases arrived. They didn’t know where I was we had kept it as a secret so that Interahamwe might not leak the information from kids. Basically no one knew where I was until when I arrived at St Michel then I came to receive them.
We all hugged each other, they were very excited until we had to tell them to keep their voices down some had very joyful tears, telling me that they thought I was dead. I told them not worry I was still alive and that we were all together in this. But the war was still continuing we were not very secure where we were until the war ends.
On 3rd July night, that was when we heard things breaking. We started thinking that they had started from the other side, basically when we arrived at St Michel we found other refugees. There was a white man Marc Feuiteur. His kids and I knew each other. So there on the way to the priest, there were refugees when they saw me they were happy that I was still alive. They cried saying Damas is still alive. I also continued at Bishop’s place just I the compound and I found there many people: brothers, priests and some nuns I knew. there were civilians too for example Muhayimana Elie who currently is a senator, I found him there he was seriously ill, he had no medication…. he was lucky he managed to get medication after war and survived.
As I had told you it was on 3rd in the night that we heard things breaking then we started thinking they had started from the other side to end with us. Then it suddenly became silent, but in the meantime UNAMIR people called on their walkie-talkies. They told us to cool down and said, ‘there is nothing to be scared about. These are people who have come to collect their equipments. Shortly after, they left. We heard cars leaving but the lights were not on. Then after an hour and a half there was total silence everywhere. The whole town was in absolute silence. At around 3am in the night some kids were sleeping outside. They laid their mattresses outside so that they could breathe air as they were sleeping. One of the kids came in and told us that they had seen people who were not dressed like Interahamwe then he added that we are all dead… we are all dead, we have been surrounded. We were all worried.
In the break of dawn, around 5am we were wondering why they were not approaching us. When it was starting to shed some light I tried to go outside and then they told me to remain indoors. I was surprised but then I knew immediately that these people were not Interahamwe, because they don’t look like Interahamwe and are not even making a lot of noise or look brutal like they normally do. I really doubted that.
Later on, as it was getting brighter in the morning, we saw some coming every side of the gate. They told us to remain calm said: ‘we are here to save you! Who is in charge here?’ Then I went in front. They asked us if we had been infiltrated by any Interahamwes or other people disguised. I said ‘no. There is no infiltrate.’
As I was still being questioned… some people he had come with started getting closer and closer, because they had seen their relatives amongst us their mothers, their sisters, their brothers and so forth. People were just happy. They warned us not to enter people’s houses because it was not safe as there might be explosives set in them. While enjoying ourselves, I heard, ‘someone wants to talk to you here.’
When I got there I found Major Rosa Kabuye, she told me her name, she had escorts. Are you Gisimba? Everyone is talking about! Then I replied ‘yes it’s me.’ She was surprised that I because I looked younger that she expected. ‘It’s me!’ She asked me if I knew where my neighbors where? She meant Mugesera family. The old man asked me to find out about his family. I told her that they were my neighbors but their house was destroyed but his family is with me. Those who managed to survive. ‘Really’ she said. I replied ’yes’, then she asked me where they were. I took her to them.
Then little by little, they told us to go outside and get some fresh air, because we were so congested in there. That is how the war ended on 4th July 1994 and we were back to peace. We got water to drink. Then Major Rosa Kabuye called for a truck that brought us 10 big cans full of water. We bathed... some people came from Kabuga and brought us clothes...then that is how we started a new life. Briefly that is what happened. The rest is a long story.
Martin: I would like to ask you, as you know in my religious run places or even to powerful people of that time people sort refuge there but they were never helped because they simply thought if they are to hide people then they could come and kill us. But here people came and you received them. I would like to ask you what made you do that because Interahamwe were killing people who tried to help but still you insisted and helped as many people as you did despite the threats and dangerous situation you put yourself into. What made you do that?
Gisimba: I never thought we would survive this because there was a lot of killing everywhere. But I decided to die noble, die believing in my faith, die not accusing myself in front of God, instead of dying like a coward that will reach in front of God and not be able to respond to when they’re asked about what they did to help.
I always convinced myself to die holy instead of dying with blood on my hands or kill people that I never created... hatred was something that was created by the older generation. I discovered love when I grew up and there is nothing nice like it. I could not leave the kids that I raised, kids that my father left me and hand them into the hands of killers then live on as if it was normal. That will never be me. So basically I chose to die trying... I didn’t do anything extraordinary.
In fact tried to help, through small means, people who had been thrown in pits. I would go at night and rescue them, there are some people that I found hiding in their houses and brought them in the orphanage but those were things I did at night. Sometimes I would send the kids for those acts because they wouldn’t be recognized.
For example, father Blanchard sent me refugees... kids who went to him came from further places like Kimisange. He had a stock of food and could ask me at times if I need some. We used kids to transport food from the Father’s to the orphanage, the kids who can pass and distance of 10 meters between them. I would send him 10 kids who would return with around a hundred kilograms of food. That was the trick we used. But it was very dangerous for the kids though.
I thank God that I did not do it alone. It was God’s will that supported me and gave me the strength to do that. As for me I cannot tolerate to see a human being like me suffering or being killed when they didn’t do anything to be who they are... for their face, their nose... basing on things that don’t really make sense. An evaluated person, a doctor or a CEO of a company could kill someone that they had trained to keep. All that trespassed my understanding. All I can say is that we are all created differently.
Martin: People who came to seek refuge here had many reasons why they did so. They probably asked themselves questions like ‘If I go there, will I survive?’ Well Gisimba, did you know all the people that survived or came to seek refuge at your place?
Gisimba: Well, I did not know all of them. There were hundreds and hundreds of people. It’s hard to know all of them. Maybe I knew my neighbors like Mugesera, Pio and also some other neighbors but as for people that came all the way form Biryogo, Kimisagara, Ntaraga and Kimisange.
It was a situation in which people just said: ‘we know there is an orphanage there and people say that the man is a good person who looks after orphans...‘ They also come expecting me to understand their situation. That’s how people came to seek refuge. Not everyone who hid in the catholic church was catholic though.
[Some would say ‘let’s go. I heard that priest he could help us...’] if they were lucky, the priest would receive them. But there were also priests who refused to help their believers because of the hatred ideology he believed in.
Martin: There are many people who hid or protected people during the war simply because they agreed on how much money they would get from the people they hid once the war and the killings were over. Why did you involve yourself in these acts that could have gotten you killed? Did you do it because you were expecting some rewards? Or was it because of your human nature? What was the reason?
Gisimba: Well, I did what I did because of my human nature. How could I expect a reward while I wasn’t sure I would survive? I didn’t even know who would win the war. It could have been the opposite and if the genocidal regime could have won the war, I wouldn’t be alive today! So I never expected any reward at all.
I always wondered when the war will be over. So I was supporting the other side that was stopping the killings. Because I believed that those were the people who would save me. My only reward was for God to help me stay alive and the rest shall depend upon God to decide based of the goals that I will have achieved. So I was not looking for any reward. I don’t expect any in this world.
Martin: You had neighbours who were maybe from the Hutu ethnic group whom at that time were not the targeted group. I want you to tell us what your neighbors thought about your acts at that time? I guess some were your friends. Therefore they could approach you and say ‘Gisimba, what you are doing to save these people shall have consequences’ or maybe if they came to seek advice from you, they could have done the same. How was the relationship with your neighbors?
Gisimba: All my neighbors thought what I was doing was wrong. Most of them were arrested later. My parents were godparents of some of them. They were like a family. We had been neighbors for a long time. They opposed it, but I resisted their ideas and told them to leave me alone.
I was only protected by God. People in my neighborhood had given up on me. They thought I was an animal. Some even avoided being seen talking to me to avoid being suspected of being in the same team with me. They thought that everything was okay and peaceful but in fact what they kept saying about me is, ‘what does he think he is doing?’ You understand!
So you understand they were not fully supporting what was happening but they were not against it neither. They are still here but they are ashamed of what they did. They are so ashamed. But you don’t give importance to that and live together.
Martin: Are there people who participated in the assaults towards the people at the orphanage that you might have seen living freely?
Gisimba: I don’t see them. The Interehamwe who came were very notorious. I think most of them died in the forests of the Congo or are in prisons. I don’t know…I don’t see them. The most notorious ones, I don’t see them anymore. The ones I see here at the market are those who looted. Some are being tried by Gacaca.
Martin: There some people who were heroic and managed to save people but later went and killed others. In other words, you have someone who hides or protects people and goes elsewhere to kills others. We cannot call such a person a Hero; it’s like a person with no side. What can you say about this kind of people?
Gisimba: I would say that this kind of people’s action is not complete. I always hear about that in Gacaca courts. I’m one of the Gacaca court judges. I would say that their actions were done halfway. Those people should be ashamed of their behavior. Such kind of people hid others while projecting their own interests. For example it can be related to the fact that every time that they shared a beer, that person would lend them some money and things like that. Then killing someone with whom they shared... that is a good kind of person at all.
Martin: Not everybody can do what you did. Actually it takes a heart of sympathy and feeling that you can hide people to the extent that when you could even sacrifice your life if you had to for them. It is a very good act, you did it without knowing if they would survive, but by Godspeed they survived. Today you are known as someone who helped people to survive and indeed you helped them. Today, how do you feel about having done such an act with God’s help when you consider the number of people you helped? People who are alive today...the people you welcomed into your orphanage.
Gisimba: I feel happiness inside but I also wish that the people I helped to survive continue to survive and live a healthy life. It is painful to see a child you helped to survive become alone and live a miserable life. Or someday see them misbehaving but even older people do. Seeing her discouraged because she is a widow or because she is poor... I pray for them because it is also another kind of war. I wish they live a better life. It was by the Lord’s mercy that they survived, they did not pay anything for them to survive.
Martin: Among those who survived from here, I can say that you did for them something to be proud of and anyone can be proud. Depending on the magnitude of the feelings, people can express their gratitude differently. I would like to know how you relate or what is your relationship like with the people who survived here? Do you see each other or do they visit you? How is your relationship with those people today?
Gisimba: We see each other. Some gave me cows...there are some who do not have that capacity but they visit me and show me love. I meet so many children who were here and now some of them are at universities, others have a work...some are drivers... others got married and invited me at their weddings. It feels good to hear that they are making a step forward.
They are not all progressing at the same level; it is not possible in this world but you find that some have managed to access a better life and some have started forgetting. Not forgetting as such but they are somehow stable though they are orphans, alone without a family... but because they managed to adapt and are trying to rebuild their lives. It is impressive. It makes you feel happy. I would not say that they forgot their parents because we cannot forget those we lost but at least we try to rebuild our lives afresh. And it feels good.
Some of them send me their young children and tell them ‘Go visit your father [war father]’. Lots of them do. They are so many that sometimes I do not recognize them. So more than 200 children and adults are in that situation... I couldn’t memorize everything. I was under lots of pressure but some older children who keep on coming to visit me... they have a fresh memory so they remember me.
Martin: What you did was indeed a very good act. Not many people that can do the same. For me it is an act that... I wish your descendants to be heroes just like you in any other situation that may arise in the future. I wish that even other people in general learn from an act like this. In this sense, your family and other people in a Rwandan community... what would you tell them? So that they also behave decently as honest men when need be?
Gisimba: My family and other Rwandans in general, I think they should all take part in all developmental activities that will help Rwandans and our country to progress. They should avoid conflicts, ethnic division because we saw how such things devastated our lives to the extent that our country became famous worldwide for using machetes, spears and things like that but also we need to love each other. This will help us forgetting all the suffering that we went through. We should also try hard to avoid that our children and grand children don’t experience what we saw.
We had such a very bad experience that affected our hearts and feelings that it will take us a long time to recover but as long as we live we shall keep on teaching them. That is my wish for all Rwandans but starting with the young ones. Teaching them those values, the bad ideology will fade away slowly as time goes on. Maybe after 30 years. Our children will not enjoy to hear about it.
Martin: Well, after the 1994 war [genocide], not everyone was bad. There were people like you in every part of the country who sacrificed their lives for others and saved lives. Today they are well known. How do you think those who put their lives at risk to save others’ should be acknowledged?
Gisimba: I do not know how they would be acknowledged...
MISSING: Gisimba: It is said that there others who were even killed for doing such a thing. I myself could have been killed like others who accepted to be killed for the sake of saving others. So, you see, we are just in different categories. I do not really know how they should be acknowledged. Our country has capable leaders and there are also commissions... so they should see how to acknowledge them maybe. Well for me I’m sure getting something to eat cannot be an issue but there are those who may have done something like this but end up dying without even having a shirt or a pair of trousers to put on. This way people can make fun of them and say ‘look at him. He rescued others but now he’s drinking local bear. He does not even have a shirt to put on, no shoes, I wonder how he shall end!’ Maybe such things are not common in big cities but in rural areas, genocide ideology is still out there. It happens that genocide survivors are despised when they testify against a killer. Such things are happening and those people are the ones who know better what happened. Saying that these were also among those who were persecuted, even that family, and that family. So the other families would start be against him. With his dirty shirt without even some soap to wash it, you find it terrifying. I think in that context, such people should be helped so that they can access a good level of living. Martin: I do not know, maybe if there is anything you would like to add to what you have told us… Gisimba: What I would add is that all Rwandans should love their country and try their best to look back, condemn the mistakes of the past and try to do everything possible so that what happened does not happen again in our country. Richard: At this point I would like to add something small... I would like to ask you, specifically this year, we will be remembering women as people who suffered during the genocide especially those who died or those who maybe are still alive but who suffer a lot from genocide effects. As a person who helped so many people around you in different categories, children, women and men... What was their life like during the genocide? Especially the women. Gisimba: How the life of women was like…Richard: Hum...Gisimba: How women lived during the genocide... some were raped, gang raped by a group of men. Around three, six, seven... in some cases, women were stripped then the killers would introduce sticks in their private parts as an experience to see how a Tutsi woman was like. Terrible things were done to them. Personally there was a time when some women passed by during the war [genocide], it was in a small restaurant just in front of the orphanage. The owner of the restaurant called me. He was the brother of the man who warned me... He told me, ‘ let me give you a bottle of beer. Someone sent it to me, let us share it. Then you tell me how the situation is’. I asked him, ‘ what do you want me to tell you ?’. He said ‘I got news from Bugesera that my wife and my children are dead. Some people from there told me so.’ As we were discussing...let me go to the point about women. At that moment, three women entered and said ‘ give us something to drink’ then the man gave them the drinks. They knew him but did know me. So they started, ‘ Bahizi...’ actually they were colleagues and we were used to drink together or eating together in that restaurant. ‘...we have finished all those cute women you know from Ibereshi. We have taken back all the men. Let’s see where our men will be cheating us again. They had taken all our men.’ For them they...ok. They did killed Tusti women but in their hearts they felt that Tusti women were more beautiful and that they had drawn their men away from them. And that was the only reason for them to kill those women. That way you understand how a Tutsi woman suffered... They also said ‘men there asked us to have sex with them for the last time before we kill them. We gave them the permission because we knew very well that from then onwards they will be our men.’ At that moment I was so frightened that... I said to myself, ‘even women...!’ There was a lady here called mama Kabibi who terrified me with her stories of how many babies she had killed yet she knew I cared about children. Women also participated. They would point at hiding places and show where other women hid their children. Sometimes they would even kill them themselves. But that woman was caught and is now in jail. I heard that she may appear in Gacaca courts soon. She was really a wicked woman but we could talk now and then. Why? Because she was a native from Butare and was raised by my grandfather who was a Christian with good morals, but it happens that one fails... But later I discovered that she wasn’t even raised in our family. She was a runaway child who used to come at my grandfather’s house looking for food because my grandfather was rich. But he did not really raise her. So with that she would relate to me as her brother. She would tell me stories that I didn’t want to listen to simply to terrify me. Richard: There are those who had the chance to survive the killings during the Genocide, who suffered a lot, who were raped and contracted dangerous diseases like AIDS. Some had their children killed and suffered a lot. What message would you like to deliver to them? Gisimba: I would tell them to be strong because it is a tragedy that befell on all Rwandans throughout the country. For those who were raped, I would urge them to seek help from counsellors so that in case they contracted any disease like AIDS, they might get treatment because it was not their fault. I know some of them but I have to keep it to myself. Some came here and told me their stories as a parent without hiding anything. They would tell me what happened to them but I could picture it myself. I did not have much medication but I would just give them antibiotics and by Godspeed some of them felt better. That is why I told you we used that to reserve a lot of water for women because some would come and tell me openly and others would feel shy to say anything. But most of them would tell me.That way the only advice I would give them is to seek help from counsellors. Take the tests because there are people who are willing to do so. For those who were not raped but were left without anyone to help and with nothing. They are the ones I talked about previously who should be helped and maybe group into associations. There are people for whom all I can do is saying a prayer for them. They should not lose hope because of the misery they live in as those who helped them died during the war [genocide]. In that sense everyone has to be strong. Even me there are some of them that I try to help with my small means. There are even some children we found without any single family member, others were lucky to find relatives like aunts, after 5, 6 or 7years and if it happened that the aunt dies, they would remain all alone in a house. There are many cases like these and whenever I find them I try to find a way to help them. Richard: Thank you! Gisimba: .....
Dock windowTable of Contents
Introduction
Genocide experience
Events at Orphanage
Death of Habyarimana
April 7-9, 1994
April 12, 1994
Help from Philip Gaillard and Carl Wilkins
Events at St. Michel
Help from Marc Feuiteur
June 30, 1994
July 3, 1994
July 4, 1994
Post-Genocide experience
Reflections on Survival
Dock windowView People
Carl Wilkins
Father Blanchard
Focas
Habyarimana Juvenal
Kigingi
Major Rosa Kabuye
Marc Feuiteur
Mugabo Pio
(neighbor of Gisimba, introduction of)
(torture of nephew of)
Mugesera family
Muhayimana Elie
Mutezintare Gisimba Damas
Nyirasafari Gaudance
Philip Gaillard
Prefet Renzaho
Dock windowView Places
Bugarama
Butamwa
Gikondo, Kicukiro (go to page)
Gisimba Orphanage
Gitega
Hotel de Diplomates
Kabuga
Kabuguru II
Kanombe
Kimisange
Kivugiza
Mburabuturo
Mount Kigali
Mumena
Munanira
Nyacyonga
Nyakabanda
Nyamirambo
Nyarugenge (go to page)
Rwezamenyo
Remera
Rugarama
St. Andre
St. Michel
Xaveri
Dock windowView Topics
Discrimination and Persecution (go to page)
Attacks on Orphanages
Racism
Use of Racial Epithets (Inyenzi/cockroaches)
Roadblocks
Torture
Torture by Interahamwe
Famous and Infamous People
Habyarimana Juvenal
Government and Political Life
Death of Habyarimana Juvenal
Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM)
(trick broadcasts of)
(asking for support of)
Liberation and Post-Liberation Life
Message for the Future
Military (go to page)
Inkotanyi
(poisoning of food by)
(poisoning of water by)
Interahamwe
(attacks on orphanages by)
(torture by)
(intimidation by)
(reflections upon and death of)
Psychological, Emotional and Cognitive Experience (go to page)
Postwar Reflection upon Genocide
Religious and Philosophical Life
Issues of Faith
Responses to Persecution and Totalitarian Rule
Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)
Aid
Provision of Food and/or Drink
(by a soldier)
(by ADRA)
(by Major Rosa Kabuye)
Rescue Attempts
Red Cross, International
(notification of poisoned food)
(going to for help for orphanage)
United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR)
Struggle for Survival
Flight to Orphanages
(initial flight)
(increased flight)
War Crimes Trials (go to page)
Gacaca Justice System
Dock windowView Map
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