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Trauma Still Fresh for Rwandan Genocide Survivors

  • Roopa Gogineni

The Rwandan genocide happened 20 years ago, but the trauma experienced by its survivors still lies close to the surface.

Every April, a sadness falls over Kinyaya, a community of genocide survivors, home to Cecile Umurerwa.

"Each time in April, I feel very anxious and sick because I remember the genocide. It is like a film in front of me, because I can remember very well. There was nowhere to hide. We were sitting when the first group of killers came. They told us to pray, that the next group would come within 15 minutes. We prayed. After we prayed, the Interahamwe took us to Kabeza where they had dug many holes," she said.

The Interahamwe (Hutu killers) forced Cecile and her children to the ground. They began shooting but soon ran out of bullets. Cecile and her younger sister were the only ones left alive.

The killers made a promise to return.

"They said, those we have killed will serve as a mattress for our dead president, you will be the blanket. Instead of me staying alone, I thought, “let them kill me.” I have no reason to stay alive," said Umurerwa.

But before the Interahamwe could come back, soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Front found Cecile and her sister and brought them to an IDP camp.

Today, Cecile cares for five young people orphaned by the genocide in a home built for her by the government.

Two hours south of Cecile's home in Kigali is the Murambi Genocide Memorial, another stark reminder of lives cut short. FILE - Rwandese refugees cross Rusumo border to Tanzania from Rwanda carrying their belongings even goats, mattresses and cows, May 30, 1994.

FILE - Rwandese refugees cross Rusumo border to Tanzania from Rwanda carrying their belongings even goats, mattresses and cows, May 30, 1994.


Forty-five thousand Tutsis were killed over three days there at the Murambi technical institute. Today, thousands of bodies have been exhumed and now lie covered in lime on desks in old classrooms.

Eric Gatabari, a guide at Murambi, lost his own family during the genocide. Now he takes groups of school children through the site.

"Some Rwandans and other people, sometimes they deny there is genocide of Rwandan Tutsis. So that is why we have decided to preserve it, in order to educate the consequences of bad ideology and ethnic divisionism," he said.

Gatabari said the memorial raises awareness in young Rwandans and ultimately served to promote unity and reconciliation.

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