Between April 7 and July 15, 1994, Hutu radicals and trained youth groups from extremist
political parties killed approximately one million of the Tutsis (Watusi or Abatutsi)
minority ethnic group in Rwanda. Providence Nkurunziza was 11 years old the night
Hutu radicals massacred her parents, five siblings and numerous extended family members.
“The only reason I survived is because I was out of town visiting my aunt for the
Easter holiday and helping take care of her newborn,” Nkurunziza said. “Most of the
victims were killed either in their own homes and villages where they thought it would
be safe to hide. Yet, the Hutu gangs searched out the Tutsis hiding everywhere including
churches and school buildings. They murdered them with machetes and other sharp traditional
weapons. A quicker way to die was to be shot, but in order to do that, the villagers
had to purchase the bullets, so only the wealthy were able to experience a quick death
instead of the slow torture.
“Also during the genocide, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were sexually abused
by HIV-infected men who had been released from hospitals by the Hutu. The intent
was to infect and cause a slow, inexorable death for Tutsi women.”
Nkurunziza said that it is God’s grace that her life was spared. Today, she is living
with her husband and three children in Haslet, TX, near Fort Worth. She is the founder
of the Kabeho Neza Initiative, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Rwandan
Tutsi women who were brutalized and infected with HIV/AIDS during the genocide. Kabeho
Neza means “You deserve a better life” in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan mother tongue.
Nkurunziza also leads programs in the U.S. to educate and raise awareness of the genocide.
“I came to live in the United States purely by chance,” she explained. “My husband
was working toward a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Kigali
in Rwanda when he applied for and won the United States Diversity Visa lottery to
immigrate to the United States. He moved to Utah for about a year, but then went
back to Rwanda to finish his degree, and that’s when we were married. In 2013, I
joined him in Utah, and soon after, our daughter was born. Although my time in Utah
was short, we were fortunate to have some of the Congregation Kol Ami members in our
lives. They helped me quickly settle in the new country.”
Nkurunziza said that in the winter of 2014, the family moved to Midland when her husband
accepted a job working in the energy industry. They lived in Midland for approximately
five years, and her two sons were born in Midland.
“We loved living in Midland and fondly remember the time we were there,” she said.
“We met true friends who took us in as family, and we still keep in touch. In fact,
we travel back to visit occasionally.”
While the family was living in Midland, Nkurunziza took classes at Midland College
majoring in Business.
“Everyone at Midland College was so helpful to me when I was attending,” she recalled.
“I was pregnant with my third child, and the other two were very young. The professors
and staff were very understanding. When I counsel young women who want to further
their education, I draw upon my experience at Midland College and the way I was treated
with compassion and understanding. I tell them that they should consider a community
college because of the small class sizes and helpful, relaxing environment.”
In 2019, Providence and her family moved to San Antonio, and in 2021, Texas Governor
Greg Abbott appointed her to serve a four-year term on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide
Commission. The commission ensures that resources are available to students, educators
and the general public regarding the Holocaust and other genocides. It also coordinates
educational events around the state.
Through her work to educate people about the genocide against Tutsis, Nkurunziza has
shared her testimony at the United Nations in New York on a day of reflection about
the genocide and has also spoken at United Nations events in Geneva and Vienna. This
past April, she gave a presentation to the Swedish Parliament.
“I not only want to educate people about the genocide perpetrated against Tutsis and
help the victims, but also want to let people know how good Rwanda is now as a country,”
she said. “It is truly remarkable how the country has recreated itself over the past
quarter century. Rwanda is known as ‘the land of a thousand hills,’ and a lot of
American and European tourists go to Rwanda to visit. It is now a very safe country.
There is a false perception among many that contemporary Rwanda is in crisis, but
that is far from the truth.
“More men than women were killed in 1994 to accomplish the ethnic cleansing. So women
have worked together for the country. Rwanda went from being a traditional society
to having women take over leadership roles. There is a preponderance of women-led
families in Rwanda, and that has created new kinds of families and social supports.
While the world needs to know what happened in Rwanda in 1994, it also needs to know
of the country’s resilience.”
Both Providence and her husband are now naturalized U.S. citizens, and about a year
ago, they moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, where her husband is a business
entrepreneur. In January, Providence will begin working toward a law degree. She
will also continue her efforts with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and
help female Rwandan genocide victims who are now battling long-term diseases like
cancer and diabetes triggered by HIV/Aids.
In addition, she has written a book about her experiences during the 1994 genocide.
The book, entitled Next Couple Hours: A Story of Fear, Loss, Courage, and Determination
During and After the Genocide Against Tutsis in Rwanda, is available on Amazon. Proceeds
from the sales benefit the Kabeho Neza Initiative.
“I survived the 1994 genocide for a reason,” Nkurunziza said. “That is why in the
book I share a quote by Alex Elle: ‘You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You
are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth and you never know who needs
your light, your warmth and raging courage.’ It is both a privilege and my duty to
testify about social justice and community healing. Regardless of the hate that people
may witness or endure, as children of God, each member of the human race is deserving
of life and love.”
Photo: Providence Nkurunziza at the Texas State Capitol building in Austin.