300060 34: A crowd of prisoners stand at mealtime in the Giterama prison 1995 in Rwanda. The prison, located fifty kilometers outside of Kigali, was built to house 1,000 people but currently holds 6,000 men and women accused by the Rwandan Patriotic Front of complicity in the 1994 genocide. (Photo by Malcolm Linton/Liaison)
Malcolm Linton—Getty Images
By Francesca Trianni and Diane Tsai
April 9, 2015

More than two decades after the Rwandan genocide, the smell of grass in the summer still gives Consolee Nishimwe nightmares.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, according to the United Nations. At 14, Nishimwe survived a brutal attack that left her emotionally and physically scarred for years. As a result of the assault, she is now HIV positive. Her father and brothers—aged 18 months, 7 and 9—were all killed.

“I will never forget what happened to me,” Nishimwe, who has vivid memories of hiding in the bushes from Hutu militias, told TIME in a recent interview. “Physical violence happened to me, and also living with HIV as a result of that, it’s something I will never forget—that will never go anywhere, that I have to live with.”

This week, as Rwanda’s government commemorates the 21st anniversary of the genocide, many survivors like Nishimwe are faced with unavoidable reminders of the physical and emotional toll of the conflict.

When asked about forgiveness, Nishimwe, who now lives in New York City, spoke of a work in progress. “That’s a really difficult word,” she said. “I think I did… I think 20 years is still early to me.”

Nishimwe’s book, Tested to the Limit: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Pain, Resilience, and Hope, is an account of her experience as a survivor.

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