Stories of the Genocide

Today I visited the Ntarama Genocide Memorial which is maybe 45 minutes south of Kigali outside of the town of Nyamata.  I had heard about this site and wanted to visit it…and I am very glad I did.  We had gone to the big genocide memorial in Kigali (Gisozi) with the team back in June.  And while that was a good experience and very informative (and even has some remains of victims and mass graves containing 250,000 of those who were killed), for me the experience at Ntarama was much more powerful!

The memorial site was a small Catholic church where 5,000 people were killed in just 2 days! There are no signs explaining things.  It is small and simple.  But the stories of the guide and the sites you see tell it all.

Ntarama is in the Bugesera district.  According to our guide, starting in 1959, this is where many Tutsis were sent to live because it was a forest filled with wild animals and tsetse flies…and it was thought that many would die.  So, there were many Tutsis concentrated here.

And while there had been periods of killings for many years prior to 1994, no people had ever been killed inside a church.  Churches were considered to be safe places.  But some would say that they were already preparing for the mass genocide of 1994.  Again according to our guide, in 1992 they started taking Hutu boys to train them how to fight…but not to be soldiers…  At the end of the training, they were given axes.

On April 9, 1994 the Hutu militia came to the area of Ntarama.  The people there were able to resist for a handful of days.  People fled to the church for safety.  So the militia sought more help/force.  On April 15, with the help of bombs/grenades, the militia broke into the church..and killed all 5,000 people gathered there over the next 2 days.

Today, when you go inside the church, you see shelves filled with skulls and other bones of victimes…piles of the clothing they had been wearing…and some of the supplies they had brought with them into the church.  You also see some of the tools/weapons the perpetrators used.  There are a small number of coffins…but these are only the remains of victims found in the immediate area just this year.  In fact, when we went to the sacristy (in addition to seeing some Bibles, books, and student notebooks), we saw a bag holding the remains of a woman who was discovered just yesterday in the garden of a nearby church.

There are 2 other buildings on the site.  One is the home where 2 people lived which was destroyed in those 2 days.  The other is a building that was used for Sunday school…and was the site where absolutely horrific means were used to torture and kill women and children. While there is very little that is in that building, what is there gives a picture that is too gruesome to write about.  

And what made it all the more difficult to see was the fact that our driver shared his story with us on the way there…and what happened to members of his family were some of the things we heard about at the memorial.  Our driver was 15 years old at the time of the genocide, and he survived by hiding out in the sugar cane fields for a month.  All he ate for that entire month was sugar cane.  And when the killers came looking for the people hiding there with dogs, he would jump into the river to hide.  He was so sick and injured that when he was found by Kagame’s troops, he was taken immediately to the hospital.

And then tonight, the young gatekeeper at the guesthouse whose English is not very good at all, tried his best to share with me his story.  He was only 5 years old at the time of the genocide. He lost both of his parents.  One sister who was 9 was the only other member of his family who survived.  She lives a few hours north of here.  He is alone in Kigali living in a place with 2 small rooms and no electricity.  He invited me to visit his home tonight.  And yet he has hope.

With all this, it is amazing to see how well this country is doing.  There are definitely still issues, and yet there is progress being made – not just in terms of the country’s development, but even in terms of how people are healing and learning to forgive!

(*Note: While you are not allowed to take pictures inside of the buildings on the memorial site, I did take some photos outside that I wanted to share.  The computer is not cooperating with me…perhaps it is just as well.)

Written by jenblevins in: Blog - 2011 Rwanda Service Trip |

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