Survivor of genocide shares story


After losing 47 pounds, hiding in a bathroom for 91 days and experiencing the loss of loved ones, a survivor shares her story.

Members of the UVM and Burlington communities gathered in the Grand Maple Ballroom Nov. 11 to hear the story of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

“I wasn’t really sure what the talk was going to be like,” sophomore Christina Tsitso said. “I couldn’t believe what she was saying, the things she had gone through.”

The 1994 Rwandan genocide erupted between two of the country’s ethnic groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis.

The Hutus believed the Tutsi were responsible for much of the country’s domestic issues, according to the United Human Rights Council.

Violence broke out April 6, 1994 after a plane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down. 800,000 people were killed in the weeks that followed, according to the United Human Rights Council.

Junior Mariama Roldan said she read Ilibagiza’s book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Genocide” in preparation for the talk.

“Reading the book was very powerful for me, but seeing this woman that actually survived [the genocide] was really impactful,” Roldan said.

Ilibagiza is a Tutsi survivor. In her presentation, she recalled her elementary school days when in class each tribe would have to stand up separately.

“The teacher would say ‘Tutsis, stand up,’ then ‘Hutus stand up,’” she said. “This happened every single week for an entire year. When the [Hutus] were killing, they knew exactly who was who.”

Ilibagiza’s family was murdered by the Hutu extremists.

“When the Hutus came to our house, my parents were yelling, telling me to leave. I left only out of obedience,” she said.

Ilibagiza ran to the home of a family friend, who brought her to a three-by-four foot bathroom for a hiding space, she said.

“At first, I couldn’t believe how one person could fit in there. Minutes later, he brought back seven other women,” Ilibagiza said.

For 91 days, the eight women hid in the bathroom periodically receiving food.

Brought up Roman Catholic, Ilibagiza said that her family had prayed together every single day.

“I think that consistency did something good [for my faith],” she said.

But Ilibagiza said she “could not pray for those first few days.”

“I was so angry. I had to remember God to find forgiveness in my heart,” she said.

Ilibagiza did eventually find the ability to forgive, later going to the jail where her family’s murderer was imprisoned, she said.

“We have to forgive people to allow them to continue on with their journey,” she said.

Ilibagiza is now an author and motivational speaker. Her book is an international best seller, according to UVM’s website.

UVM’s Catholic Center sponsored the event.