Damas Mutezintare Gisimba, a protector of friendship pact(umurinzi w’igihango) and a philanthropist who saved many during the Genocide against Tutsi has died aged 62 at Nyarugenge hospital-Kigali.
Gisimba, is founder of Centre Memorial Gisimba in Nyarugenge District. The centre saved hundreds of orphans who did not have any support around them before, during and after the Genocide against Tutsi.
And, during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi particularly, many Tutsi found refuge at his centre, and he declined any access to Interahamwe militia who wanted to exterminate them, pledging to loose his life rather than abandoning them.
By doing this, Gisimba was taking a big risk; death. But he believed the fear for death was less important than witnessing innocent people, especially children, get killed.
“I could not watch with my own eyes as people got killed. I decided to do all I could,” Gisimba told KT Press a couple of years ago.
As the 100-day genocide went on, information circulated that he was hiding people and Gisimba started getting death threats from the killers, but this did not deter him any inch. He rescued more than 300 children into his orphanage.
When attackers threatened to burn down his orphanage, he looked for other means. “I contacted an American friend who helped me relocate them to St. Michel cathedral church. That’s how we survived,” Gisimba told KT Press.
In November 2015, Gisimba was recognised by President Paul Kagame with a medal of guardian of friendship pact- umurinzi w’igihango during a ‘Unity Award 2015’ gala organized by Unity Club, the organisation of spouses of Rwandan leaders which is chaired by First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
On that particular date, Gisimba was recognised alongside 16 people.
“When you see these Rwandans we recognize here, I personally feel I couldn’t have done what they did…especially doing it after they had faced the worst,” President Kagame said then.
Gisimba was also awarded the national medal of the Campaign against Genocide which is given to people who did outstanding deeds to save the Tutsi during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
Meanwhile, efforts to perpetuate the legacy of Gisimba have started.
In 2018, Brandon Stanton – an American author, photographer, and blogger who tours the world to tell stories of particular communities raised about $ 400,000 in three days in a fundraising to build Gisimba Memorial Centre in Rwanda and in Uganda.