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New life for Rwandan genocide survivor

She didn't speak for 4 years but now woman looks after orphaned nephews and niece.

Julienne Uwimana survived Rwanda's genocide 15 years ago. Her husband, children and her parents were all killed but she lived. Now she earns a living making stuffed animals and at her home in Kigali she cares for two nephews and a niece who were orphaned in the violence. (Tugela Ridley/GlobalPost)

KIGALI, Rwanda — Julienne Uwimana, 50, had three children. They were murdered in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide. Her husband Francois — who smiles out from a faded black-and-white wedding photograph in a frame above a doorway in her home — was also killed by the ethnic Hutu militia, the Interahamwe. Julienne survived but she was raped countless times and contracted HIV.

The genocide that began on April 7, 1994, lasted 100 days and killed more than 800,000 people. It was an ethnic massacre carried out by ordinary people armed with the everyday tools of Africa: sticks, machetes, axes and hoes.

Extremist Hutu politicians organized the genocide bent on wiping out the minority Tutsis as well as moderates of their own tribe who might oppose the planned extermination. Like other genocides in Namibia, Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Kosovo and Sudan, the one in Rwanda failed to exterminate a people, but it left the graves overflowing and the society shattered.

Julienne now lives in Kigali with three orphaned children. The two boys and a girl are her nephews and niece, the only survivors of the next generation of her family. A local program funded by the British government — Rwanda’s biggest donor — and run by Solace Ministries
supplies Julienne with antiretroviral drugs and counseling. This has helped her to to rebuild her life after the violence of 15 years ago.

Speaking at her home in her native language, Kinyarwanda, through an interpreter, she tells her story:

“Many terrible things happened to me during the 1994 genocide, it’s very hard to talk about them. I was married then. I had children and I had parents. But all of them perished during the genocide and I alone survived.

“My husband was killed on the April 22, 1994, with my oldest son. A week later my two other children were killed with their grandmother. They took my oldest child, who was 16, and raped her for one week then they killed her. The people who raped her were the same people who raped me. They were our neighbors.

“Many different soldiers also raped me. For these men it wasn’t a matter of sexual urge. After they had finished raping me they used the bottles they had been drinking alcohol from to rape me. In 2008, because of the problems this caused, doctors removed my uterus.

“A neighbor found me and took me to Kabgayi Catholic church but on the way we were stopped at a roadblock. There were many men there and they beat me with clubs until they thought I was dead. I was bleeding from my nose, mouth and ears — from everywhere.

“During the night they left to drink alcohol and share out the things they had looted. I crawled away and escaped with five other women. On the way to Kabgayi we passed the place where I was born. When I reached home I found that my parents and relatives had all been killed.