Ten years ago, Christine Kayitesi and her young family arrived in Tasmania as refugees from Rwanda. Nine years earlier, the country had been gripped by ethnic violence – a genocide which claimed close to a million lives over 100 days. Kayitesi lost her parents, sister, two brothers and other members of her extended family – 26 in all.
The genocide survivor spoke about her own escape, and her life since then, at the Bible Society’s Get The Word Out to Rwanda project launch in Hobart recently.
“My husband and I had three young children in Rwanda, born after the 1994 genocide. Even though it was over, things were not good at all. There was still a sense of insecurity and revenge, and we didn’t want to raise a family in that atmosphere. We wanted to give our family a nice environment and a future. So in the year 2000 we fled from Rwanda.”
The family was resettled in Hobart, where they still live. It was a difficult time of adjustment, but at least now Kayitesi had the safety and peace she wanted for her family.
“It was so hard, with food, the climate, language difficulties and all. Besides my mother tongue, I had learned French in school. But now, I had to start with A-B-C all over again, learning English at TAFE.
“We were the second Rwandan family in Hobart, and making more new friends was a difficult thing to do. Today there are still only about four Rwandan families here, and we get together every year for a Rwandan Commemoration service. We speak about Rwanda, remember the people we have lost, and pray for a better future for our homeland.
Today, Kayitesi counts the people at TAFE and at church as her friends and family. She works as a teacher’s assistant in a primary school, helping children who struggle with English as a second language. She also helps out at the Rwandan Coffee Club, a charity that raises awareness and support for the rebuilding of her home country. She helps to grind and pack coffee for sale, and does whatever it takes to send aid back to Rwanda. “I know it goes back home, helping widows and other people.”
“Seeing my children happy here today – having parents, attending school – makes me happy too. I strive to forget the past, and to build on being in Tasmania with my ‘community family.’ We value the people here so much – they have been a big consolation to me. In some way, this has now become my country…. I feel at home.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t think about other survivors in Rwanda who are still living with that trauma. We do think about them, that’s why we hold the commemoration every year here in Hobart.
“And that’s why I wrote my testimony down. I do want to remember, even though it’s not as heavy in my heart as before. As I was writing I was recording all those things I had committed to memory – hoping for a day when my English would be better. I want to write a book, and I also want to share this memory with my children who’ve been raised in Australia. It’s important to me that they know my story, and about their grandparents and our family who were killed, and about our life in Rwanda. I remember – not for revenge, or to teach my children to hate – but so that I will have all the answers when they do ask questions.”
The Bible Society has a year long fundraising project on to help others in Rwanda achieve the peace that Kayitesi has found, right where they live. Through Bible distribution and Bible-based literacy classes, more and more people in Rwanda are learning to forgive and live peacefully together. It’s a process of change that will take years, but the fruit is already beginning to show.
Image above: Rwandan dance at one of the Get The Word Out launches around Australia