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Eyewitness Testimony: Damas Gisimba


We were no longer scared of dying. We lived with death; it surrounded us. Death walked among us. And so I was no longer afraid. I could not be scared in front of the children. I could not panic, because if I panicked, I couldn’t have done anything to help those who had fled to me. I could see the militias coming, and I would signal to the adults to go up into the ceiling and hide. When they arrived, all they could see were the kids in their dorms, and they didn’t see the adults.

It was in the month of June that they killed people at the center. They killed my social worker. They killed other people who were hiding in the ceiling of the kitchen, at least six people. This is when they realized that I was hiding people left and right, and at that moment they organized to attack the center.

Damas Gisimba, Rescuer, Rwanda

Damas Gisimba was the director of an orphanage, the Gisimba Memorial Center, in Kigali, Rwanda, when the genocide began in April 1994.

While Tutsi were targeted across Rwanda, he offered them safety, hiding children among the orphans and adults in the ceiling of the orphanage.

Gisimba's center, which had previously housed 60 orphans, became a shelter for some 400 people. Gisimba risked his life repeatedly by refusing to allow militias to enter the center. But when the militias realized how many people were hiding there, Gisimba could no longer prevent a massacre.

Through the intervention of American aid worker Carl Wilkens, who pleaded with the Rwandan prime minister to save the orphanage, Gisimba, the orphans, and all the people he was hiding were evacuated to a safer place in Kigali.

Gisimba remains the director of the orphanage. His greatest struggles today are to maintain the health and education of the orphans, many of whom were orphaned because of AIDS and often are themselves now infected with HIV, and the financial security of the center.