I introduced you to Alphonsine a couple months ago when she shared a piece of her story for my Sanctity of Life series. She is a friend with an incredible story of tragedy, forgiveness, love and triumph.
In the spring of 1994 while I was focusing on qualifying for the state track meet and picking out a dress for prom, Alphonsine was surviving of one of the most heinous events in human history. Starting on April 6, 1994 and lasting for 100 days, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were brutally murdered in Alphonsine’s home country of Rwanda.
This is her story.
My name is Alphonsine Imaniraguha. I was born and grew up in Rwanda, a country flowing with honey and milk in the heart of Africa. “Alphonsine” is a French name meaning “a noble warrior”, and “Imaniraguha” is a Kinyarwanda name meaning “GOD gives you”. I was the second born of five siblings.
My family was very happy in the early years, and my parents were the best people I have ever known. I recall very well the parents I knew only a few years. My mother Colette was a brave woman with a big heart. It took me many years to understand how she could pray for and love people whom I knew didn’t like our family. I clearly remember some of her in-laws who were jealous because she married a financially stable man. Perhaps they wanted to be the ones benefiting from my dad’s small business. You see, where I come from when someone makes a good living, they are expected to be responsible for their immediate family and all other relatives as well. It’s no wonder they were jealous. I may have forgotten some things about my mother, but the way she loved and treated people equally gripped to my heart for good.
My mother was an amazing mom. She was everything to us; caring very deeply and being there to listen, advise and console us.
My father was my best friend. He was sweet and his smile and the beauty in his eyes revealed his kindness and humbleness to everyone who saw him. I still think that my dad was the most handsome man that ever lived.
My parents taught us to pray, to love all people and treat our neighbors as family. They also did their best to keep my siblings and me from knowing all the details about the history of violence in Rwanda, their past and the ethnic tensions. Perhaps in hopes of helping us to grow up treating everyone like a family. Whenever we saw or heard anything bad on the news, their answer was the same: “Everything will be okay. Don’t listen to those people.” I could not dream anything bad would happen to them.
But on the night of April 6th, 1994, we witnessed a new page in the history of Rwanda.
My whole family was at home during the Easter school break, with the exception of my sister Claudine who was visiting her godmother nearby. Suddenly, we heard the unusual sound of big guns and explosions not too far away and saw flames in the sky. We rushed to our radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the Rwandan president had been shot as it was landing right outside the capital city Kigali, in Kanombe.
Within seconds the horrifying genocide began.
Statistics estimate that at least a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 100 days. Ironically, it took more than two months for the United Nations and the international community to rule the systematic killings of the Tutsi at a rate of 10,000 per day a genocide. This staggering number includes those dearest to me — my parents and two of my siblings, close friends and classmates, neighbors and fellow citizens.
A stranger helped save my life.
By the grace of God, three of my younger siblings, who were all under 10 at the time, also survived. Initially orphaned and separated, we were eventually reunited and able to return to school. Providing for my siblings was not an easy task. They were so young and required more than a teenage girl could give, but I knew I had to grow up quickly. I soon became their mother, especially to my youngest sister Mireille who cannot even remember the faces of our parents.
Part 2 of Alphonsine’s story will post on Thursday.