Even before the Genocide against Tutsi, Chantal Mukazayire 42, a genocide survivor and mother of three had understood that Tutsi were not meant to enjoy the same rights as the rest of Rwandans until she met a Catholic nun Sister Helene Nayituliki.
Sister Nayituliki has been put in a category of Heroines due to her kind deeds where she managed to hide more than a hundred people during the Genocide.
Despite the medal she got for her courage, humility is Sister Helene Nayituliki’s trademark. Strangely, she never ever wants to speak about her heroic acts. Instead, to have her story told, KT Press had to look for people who survived the horrors of death thanks to her sacrifice.
Mukazayire, a former student at Rwamagana School of Nursing, was in her internship during the Genocide and she was one of the lucky few to have been under the care of Sister Helene, as she is tenderly known.
Talking to KT Press, she said that on April 6, 1994 during supper in their dining room is when they heard on radio that former president Juvenal Habyarimana’s airplane was shot.
“We were all shocked and full of fear,” she paused for a while and continued, “By then, the teachers and Sister Nayituliki used to sleep outside the school but after that news she immediately came back in the school compound. It was around 11 PM.”
To respond to the crisis, the nun who had already learnt that killings was to start was brave enough to take her students to the scene so they can see and learn an important lesson.
“She gathered us in our dormitories and warned us that the killers should not separate us,” Mukazayire said, adding, “She encouraged us to be united and stay prayerful.”
Nevertheless, all students understood the situation was worsening and those with anti-Tutsi sentiments cooled down.
The following day which was April 7 Nayituliki requested all students to hand in their Identity cards.
The students continued to live inside the dormitories where they would only come out during lunch time and then go back.
They lived that life until 18 April when they had to relocate to better safety.
Earlier before Sister Nayituliki had requested for the army to come and guard the school since some of the students were children to powerful leaders in the government.
The day came when students had to be relocated because pressure was mounting; Interahamwe militia had started telling Nayituliki to “release the ‘Inyenzi’ you are keeping in this center or we burn you with them. They boarded trucks and were escorted by government soldiers.
At that very day, the students, both Hutu and Tutsi were surprised that, Sister Nayituliki had managed to find a hideout for over 150 other neighbours, besides their teachers.
They passed by Bugesera, believing it was the safest road, but when they reached Kareba, near Zaza parish in East, they were stopped at a roadblock staffed by the Interahamwe, who threatened to kill them.
“We saw Interahamwe killing Tutsi and all we had to do was to hold hands and prayer,” Mukazayire said.
“The killers agreed to spare our lives, only after Sister Nayituliki had bribed them just for the only option to allow us return to school.”
This scenario put them at risk because it allowed Interahamwe to confirm that indeed Nayituliki was hiding a huge number of Tutsi, even those they didn’t know were still alive.
As they were preparing an apocalypse set for the third day following the return of their targets, RPF Inkotanyi had taken over Rwamagana.
“By then we were assured that we are safe. We believed Inkotanyi had come to rescue us,” recalls Mukazayire, currently a doctor at Rubavu hospital.
From then, students, predominantly nursing interns – we started volunteering in treating the injured Tutsi at Gahini and Byumba hospitals from Kayonza and Gicumbi districts respectively, a zone Inkotanyi was controlling.
Even after then, Mukazayire says that Sister Nayituliki continued to show them the motherly love where each of the students had her own nun to take care of her.
According to Mukazayire, “She feared for our lives as girls, keeping in mind that a woman is always the most vulnerable in war time,”
Sister Nayituliki was honored with a national medal for fight against the Genocide.
In 2012, ten alumni students including Mukazayire gave her a cow in recognition of her heroic actions during the Genocide.
Sister Nayituliki is still a passionate educationist. Currently she is Head Teacher for Lycee Notre Dames de Citeaux, a girls school in Nyarugenge district, City of Kigali.