How I survived the genocide: Leah Chishugi

Leah Chishugi told Anton Enus how after being slashed and left for dead by Hutu militias, she managed to escape and save others.

Leah Chishugi told Anton Enus how she was caught up in the horror of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, and escaped only after being left for dead under a pile of corpses.

She is in Australia for the Brisbane Writers Festival, to present her book, A Long Way From Paradise.

Chishugi grew up in eastern Congo but, aged 17, she moved to Rwanda, where she married and had a son.

"I think what encouraged me to survive was that at the time I was a mother and I had responsibility for my son, so I decided to be strong and try as much as I could to survive because my son was just six months old, so I could say just motherhood helped me to survive".

"I came across women corpses lying down and their children were sucking the breasts of the dead bodies. I just could not bear seeing that. If it was me lying down there, I would have wished that someone could have picked up my son because I could not take care of it.

"So I didn't care what tribe they belonged. I just picked up a few children and carried them with me, (I thought) until I get tired".

She says she still does not fully understand why Rwanda was at war with itself.

"Whatever happened in Rwanda, I am capable of doing it myself. I am capable of killing, if I can. It's a matter of choice. I was strong enough to also pick up a machete and kill back, but I didn't. I chose life. I chose to save".

She fled with her son to Uganda, then South Africa where she was miraculously reunited with her husband whom she believed dead, before finally settling in the UK where she was granted asylum and became a nurse.

She says when she moved to the UK, initially she suffered from 'guilt of survival' until she turned her suffering into the opportunity of finding her life mission.

"I remember a couple of times I tried to commit suicide, because it was too much suffering. I didn't have my parents. I didn't have my brother and sister. I didn't like Christmas, or my birthday, because I had no one that could pick up the phone and call me.

"But all that was to find out what was my mission. Now I have found it and I know that each and everyone in this world has their mission".

She set up a charity called Everything is a Benefit, to distribute medical supplies to the women of the region.

She says she wishes other genocide survivors can look back at their experience and see the goodness in the people that helped them.

"I just wish that they could look back to that horrible journey, and find out why did that guy decided to give me money, why these people decided to give me bananas, why me... why for example the Greens family from Australia decided to put up with us in Cape Town.

"Now I am looking back and the all experience gave me the courage to say that the world is a better place and I could give back.

"No matter of what I went through, I will always have that love to give because of the people that gave it to me.

"Everything is a benefit," she added.

You can also watch this video here.

Source: SBS

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