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Politics

‘HUMANS OF NY’ SPOTLIGHTS HEROES OF RWANDAN GENOCIDE

October 22, 2018

Rwanda has transformed into a country virtually unrecognizable from the nation that experienced one of the most severe genocides in modern history. Twenty-four years after the Hutu-led government orchestrated the massacre of over 800,000 Tutsi people, the story of the African nation is one of fairytale-like redemption as a new Rwanda emerges from the ashes.

Humans Of New York, the platform made famous through the sharing of stories by everyday New Yorkers, has expanded its reach outside the Big Apple. Photoblogger Brandon Stanton is using the series to share the stories of Tutsi people who survived the genocide and the Hutu people who risked their lives to conceal and protect Tutsis.

The stories of pastors, shopkeepers and even Hutu soldiers who risked death by helping Tutsi people reveals both how the killings started while shining a light on the resistance that saved countless lives and provided the foundation for the Rwanda we know today (which houses Africa’s cleanest city, Kigali).

It’s beautiful to watch a country heal because it is proof that, despite such harrowing odds, it is able to do so.

 

 

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“My father was a talented engineer. He could fix any type of truck, and he used his income to help the poor. Our neighbors’ school fees and hospital bills were always paid. My mother would bring needy people to our table, and order us to give them the best portions of meat. She’d explain that these people rarely had the chance to eat well. Both my parents were very religious. But they always taught us: ‘Humanity first. Everything else comes after.’ When the genocide began, they invited our Tutsi neighbors to hide in our house. There were seven of them. Some lived under the beds. Others lived in the cupboards. I was a teenager back then and my job was to change the waste buckets. It was a miserable existence, and it went on for months. But we prayed with them. We tried to give them hope. We told them that God was in control. At night we’d give them Muslim dress so they could go in the backyard and get fresh air. Our neighbors suspected us because our curtains were always closed. We never slept because we knew the penalty for hiding Tutsis was death. But all seven people in our house survived. Unfortunately my mother and father died a few years ago, so I must tell their story for them. Their names were Mukamunosi Adha and Gasano Juma. They saved seven lives. And they valued love and humanity more than anything.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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(1/3) “The genocide was an opportunity to get rich. Murdering people was the quickest way to accumulate wealth. We were given permission from the government to seize the property of anyone we killed. We were told it was our god given right. But I never felt the temptation. My family owned a very big supermarket. I had my own car. When the killings began in 1994, I had a scholarship to study in Greece and I was just waiting to begin university. My stepfather was Vice President of our region, so we had four bodyguards in the house. These guys were highly trained with automatic weapons. They became good friends of mine. I’d take them to the bar every night. I’d drive them around and buy them anything they wanted. They were also good human beings. One night over drinks we discussed the genocide, and all of us decided: ‘We’re going to put an end to this in our neighborhood.’ The next morning I woke up to my neighbor screaming. I looked out the window and saw that he’d been surrounded by a mob with machetes, and was bleeding badly from the head. I’d been friends with him since childhood. So I sent my bodyguards to save him. The machetes were no match for our guns. Word spread quickly after that. Tutsi families came to our compound seeking refuge. I took long walks with my bodyguards every morning, looking for people to save. We drove to surrounding farms and searched the fields for survivors. At one point we had seventy people under our protection. Nobody challenged us. I was young and cocky. I thought we were untouchable.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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(1/4) “When we heard the president had been killed, I ran into the street with my friends. We wanted to see what was happening. Immediately two men came running after us with guns. They were pointing at us and screaming: ‘You killed the president!’ All of us ran in different directions. I ducked into a neighbor’s house and climbed into the ceiling, but my shoes fell off and landed on the bed. The men discovered my shoes and they climbed into the ceiling after me. Luckily I squeezed into a place they could not fit. But when they finally left, the owner of the house told me I had to find another place. He told me that people were hiding at the church of St. Paul, and that I should go there. I left at 3 AM. I walked through the forest. I could hear gunfire and screaming in the dark. The church was less than a kilometer away but the journey took me two hours. When I finally arrived, I discovered hundreds of other survivors. We were housed in the building behind me. Every hour more people would arrive. Each time a newcomer came through the front door, we would rush to them for news. I learned that my brothers had been killed. They had run to a nearby church, but the pastor opened its doors to the killers. Another person told me that my mother had been killed. She’d taken refuge in a nuns’ compound. She was randomly chosen for death and shot in the head at 10 AM. She lived until 5 pm. But by the time I heard this, I couldn’t even cry. I was completely numb. I was just waiting to die myself.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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(1/3) “My husband and I were shopkeepers at the time of the genocide. We sold groceries on one side of the shop, and on the other side we had a bar. On the night the president’s plane was shot down, the place was full. Everyone was dancing and listening to music. We heard a large explosion but didn’t think anything of it. Everyone just went back to dancing. But the next morning people began shopping frantically. We were selling food in large quantities. When we were down to the last 100 kilograms of potatoes, I decided not to sell anymore. I could tell that danger was coming. Nobody came to the bar that night. The streets were empty and quiet. People were either planning violence, or they were hiding. Kigali was one of the first cities to be liberated during the genocide. So almost immediately there was fierce fighting throughout the city. The killers knew they had to murder as quickly as possible. They were herding groups of Tutsis onto bridges and shooting them all. My husband and I had a reputation for being friendly with Tutsis, so we were suspected of being traitors. Our neighbors began watching us closely. We feared for our lives. We had a lot of property, so we knew there was a big incentive to murder us. When the first Tutsis came to us looking for shelter, we turned them away. But one night I was walking near the house, and I heard a close friend calling to me from a tree. He was dying of hunger. It had been raining all day. I said to myself: ‘The property isn’t worth it,’ and I invited him inside. I didn’t even inform my husband.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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(1/4) “First came the meetings. They were openly advertised on community microphones. Their stated purpose was to discuss ‘current issues,’ but everyone knew that killings were being organized. These things were being openly discussed on the radio at the time. I was always invited to these meetings, but I never attended. I was a pastor. I wanted no part in those discussions. But when the killings finally commenced on April 7th, people came running to my church for sanctuary. The first of them arrived early in the morning. They were trembling and too scared to speak. All they could say was: ‘Hide us, hide us.’ I told everyone to go inside the church. I said: ‘If our God is true, we will be OK.’ Finally a young man arrived who was able to talk. ‘They killed my parents,’ he said. ‘All of us are being hunted.’ I was also terrified but I tried not to show it. I just kept bringing people inside the gate. By the time the sun went down, there were over three hundred people hiding on this property.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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(2/4) “There had always been permission to kill any Tutsis we discovered while on patrol. But on April 6th our instructions became very clear: every Tutsi was to be found and killed. It was even said over the radio. Our first official order was to drive to a nearby city and open fire on unarmed civilians. Most soldiers carried out the orders with glee. The hatred had sunk into their core. Let it be remembered that the killings were pursued with pride, passion, and determination. Soldiers fired indiscriminately at people walking down the road. I pretended to participate, but I didn’t pull the trigger. That night we returned to the camp and everyone swapped stories. They bragged about how many people they’d killed. It became a competition. Soldiers would radio from other bases, and say: ‘We’ve killed so many already. Why can’t you keep up?’ All of it was sickening. I couldn’t eat for weeks. But it was most traumatizing for the Tutsi soldiers in our army. My roommate was a Tutsi. He had to pretend like he was enjoying the murder of his friends and family. He had to laugh along with the others to save his own life. He could only remove his mask with me. And he was the only one that I trusted with my plan.” (Kigali, Rwanda)

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