Saturday 21 September 2019

'Seeing next morning was a bonus. I lost my husband, brothers, sister' - memories of a Rwandan refugee

Chantal Mutesi, who moved here from Rwanda with her baby, attends Bóthar memorial

Lest we forget: A Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in this 1994 file photo. REUTERS
Lest we forget: A Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in this 1994 file photo. REUTERS
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

A woman who survived the Rwandan genocide has paid tribute to Irish people on the 25th anniversary of the 1994 event.

Chantal Mutesi (51) moved to Ireland with her baby after the horrific genocide that claimed more than 800,000 lives.

She survived alongside her three-week-old baby, who has grown up in Cork and who will go to her homeland for the first time next month at the age of 25.

Ms Mutesi said she was “deeply touched” by the support of the Irish people when she first moved here.

“I was 26 when it happened. I was there. I lived through it. I survived it with a baby who was only three weeks old when it started.

“Memories don’t fade despite people saying time is a healer. It’s just you learn how to cope,” she said at a special commemoration with aid agency Bóthar yesterday.

“Memories are still fresh. Seeing the next morning was a bonus. I lost my husband, brothers and my sister.

“My mom. My grandmother. And my cousins, my aunties, my best friends and my whole life was changed overnight. 

The Mayor of Limerick City and County of Limerick, Cllr James Collins, Egwyge Roussard and Chantal Mutesi at the solemn gathering in Limerick for the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Photo: Sean Curtin True Media
The Mayor of Limerick City and County of Limerick, Cllr James Collins, Egwyge Roussard and Chantal Mutesi at the solemn gathering in Limerick for the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Photo: Sean Curtin True Media

“Commemorating, remembering our loved ones today and at the same time acknowledging what’s happening; the courage, the faith and the progress we’ve made – I couldn’t be prouder.”

Fellow Rwandan Edwige Roussard said the commemoration, held near Bóthar’s headquarters in Limerick, meant a lot to those who lived through it.

“I left Rwanda when I was five but it’s my home country. And I have family there and I also lost some members of my family,” she said.

“I’m really glad to see how the Irish and Limerick people are dedicated to remembering what happened in Rwanda.”

The pair were joined by Limerick City and Council Mayor James Collins at O’Brien Park to plant a birch tree, recognised as a symbol of hope and new beginnings.

The 100 days of slaughter began on April 6, 1994 after president Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi – both Hutus – were killed when their plane was shot down.

Niamh Mulqueen, Bóthar chief operating officer, said that despite the agency’s years of work in Rwandan, the genocide still shows “how cruel life can be”.

“When we hear the stories that we’ve heard today it can actually stop you in your tracks,” she said.

“However, I think an important message to take away from is to show the positivity that is in Rwanda now 25 years later, the hope that they have. The resilience that they have. I think the whole world could learn from them.”

Addressing the event, Mr Collins said it was only right Ireland would stand in solidarity with the people of Rwanda at this time, to mark the horrific genocide but encourage the continuation of their recovery. 

“We can’t ever really know the suffering that your nation has endured. What I do know is the hope that your nation is all about today,” he said.

“We are here to mark the darkest period in your country’s history, one that your nation is thankfully putting behind it, in no small part thanks to the response and intervention from the likes of Bóthar, whom we are very proud of in Limerick.”

The aid agency Bóthar began working in Rwanda 22 years ago and since then has transformed the lives of thousands of impoverished families.

It supports the Rwandan government’s ‘Grinka’ programme of giving each poor family in rural areas a cow, as the animals are sacred in their culture.

Last year it also sourced and sent out five pedigree Irish bulls, purchased by the Rwandan government, to enhance the country’s breeding programme. Irish cattle provide six times the yield of the Rwandan equivalent.

Irish Independent

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