Twenty years ago, on 6 April 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana of Rwanda was shot down. The assassination set in motion some of the bloodiest events of the late 20th century; over the next 100 days more than 800,000 people were massacred. Entire families were wiped out; women were systematically raped and children were victims of unspeakable brutality. Those who survived lived with the horrors branded in their memories.
One such survivor is Ruzimbana Methode, just six years old and living with his aunt when he lost most of his family:
“When the genocide started, there was an announcement on the radio that people should stay in their houses. Then, in the night, houses started getting burned and we started hearing gun shots,” Methode remembers. “It was then that we decided to leave the house and started hiding in bushes, hills and later in the swamp for two months.”
In the chaos of the killing, families were separated. Nelson, Methode’s elder brother, ran to his aunt’s house to seek refuge with Methode, but they had already gone. He was captured and killed. Methode’s father and sister hid in the church, hoping it would be safe. The church was bombed. His mother was killed as she fled to the hills with Methode’s baby brother on her back.
Hiding in the swamp, Methode and his aunt scavenged for food and drank swamp water until finally, they too were hunted down:
“The killers came to the swamp to attack us in big groups, blowing their whistles and singing their songs. You could hear people begging for forgiveness. My aunt ran with me to the river and bade me farewell.” recalls Methode. “We held on to floating dead bodies until the killers found us. They hit my aunt with a machete. They threw me to the ground, hit my knee with a club and, just when they were about to finish me off, another killer called out to the rest, blew his whistle hard and I was spared.”
When the killing ended, Methode had nowhere to go. “Because of all that happened to me and all the anger I had, I wanted to become a soldier to take revenge.” Methode says, crying. “I would think about all that happened to my parents, my family and my country, and all I wanted to do was to become a soldier, get a gun and shoot all the people I was told killed my family.”
Methode was told he was too young to join the army and that the law would enforce justice for the killings. He and his aunt were given a house to stay in, in the genocide survivors’ village, but it did not take away his bitterness, hopelessness or nightmares.
Hope, however, was coming. One year later, Methode’s neighbour heard about Compassion’s ministry at his church and took the young boy for registration into Compassion’s Child Development Programme. Here he received medical attention, access to education, emotional support and a fresh introduction to the God who loves him.
Still walking with the trauma of all he had lived through, Methode was withdrawn at first and struggled to concentrate; he failed tests and had to retake whole years of school. But, through the kindness of his project workers, a light began to shine in the darkness that surrounded him.
“Through regular project activities like singing, games, praying together and reading the Bible, I started to realise that I could get peace from God. I started singing in the choir and in my prayers telling God to take away all that was heavy in my heart,” he says. “God convinced me that I would not be any different if I revenged [my family].”
The quiet withdrawn boy disappeared and in his place stood a child who started to laugh again. Methode smiles as he remembers: “I got so involved in my church and my class performance improved to either the first or second position in my class.”
Today, Methode is enrolled with the Compassion Leadership Development Programme. This programme not only enables him to study at university, but instills the leadership skills he needs to return to his home and become an agent of change. The healing he has received will transform a community.
He is living a life his family could never have dreamed of but he maintains, “The biggest thing that happened to me, that the government would never have managed to give me, is forgiving the killers. I thank God that Compassion came to Rwanda and helped many hurting children, becoming their source for education, life and salvation.”
Bekah Legg, Compassion UK with Rosette Mutoni