By Theresa Breault
When one hears the word “genocide,” the few instances that come to mind may be the Holocaust, Darfur or Rwanda. For many Minnesotans, a tragedy as profound as genocide seems to feel far away in places that never reach the Midwest. For one Saint Mary’s University freshman, this is not the case.
Alphonse Bizimana lived in Gisenyi, a small province in Rwanda, during the genocide in 1994. “I was seven years old when the genocide started,” Bizimana said. “I remember it started at night, and in the morning these men were asking for IDs which said whether you were Hutu or Tutsi. If you were a Tutsi, they would take you aside and kill you. I am a Tutsi.”
Even though he was young, he knew what was happening to the Tutsi’s around him, and he knew that his mother was a Tutsi. She was forced into hiding as Hutu militia started to slaughter their entire town.
“One of my friends was a teenage Tutsi boy that lived close to me,” said Bizimana. “The Hutus found him and forced him to kill other Tutsis, telling him that if he did not, they would kill him.” Bizimana said that it was only a matter of time before the entire town was wiped out.
Epiphany Bizimana, Alphonse’s mother, was hiding underneath her bed when Hutu men searched through her house. Alphonse and his four-year-old brother Gill Murayire waited outside of their house as they watched the men go in and search for their mother. As they searched through the house and speared underneath the beds, Epiphany lifted herself up off the ground onto the frame of the bed to keep from being killed.
The Hutu men did not find Epiphany, and the three of them ran to hide at another house. The next day, however, the Hutus found where they were hiding and killed the people who gave them shelter.
“It was after that when my mother knew she was probably not going to survive. She told my brother and me to try and cross the border into the Congo. We had to leave, so we just started wandering. We could not hide anywhere, and the only people around us were Hutu militia. When we finally almost reached the border, the Hutu men called out to us and tried to stop us from going into the Congo. We started running, and we ran towards these 10 ladies who told the Hutu men that we were their sons. We traveled with them past the border and into the Congo. They saved us from being killed,” Bizimana said.
Later, after Epiphany had been hiding for a month and a half, she found a way for herself to make it to the Congo by dressing as a Muslim woman and crossing the border. Although Bizimana got to see his mother after she crossed the border, she died later of sickness and starvation.
While Bizimana and his brother were in an orphanage in the Congo, they both were sponsored to be a part of the African Children’s Choir, which allowed both of them to tour the United States, Canada and the U.K. for two and a half years. It was during this tour that Alphonse found a family in Winona that sponsored him and his brother to attend Winona Cotter High School.
Now, Bizimana is able to attend Saint Mary’s University on the Laws of Life Scholarship. His brother is still attending Winona Cotter, with plans to join his older brother here at Saint Mary’s after he graduates.
For Bizimana, it is not difficult to discuss his past life. “Some kids back at the orphanage could not talk about it, but it is not a problem for me,” said Bizimana. “It’s actually easier to talk about it.”
After everything he has endured, Bizimana still maintains a positive outlook on life. He plans to earn degrees in public relations and marketing and is enjoying life at Saint Mary’s.