In the morning at Kibuye we met an amazing woman named Josephine. She was a rescuer. During the genocide, she found a nine-year-old Tutsi boy named Thomas. Thomas thought he would be killed by a Hutu woman but Josephine gained the boy’s trust. She brought Thomas to her home and introduced him to her sons saying, “This is your brother.”Josephine’s husband was furious with her for risking the family’s lives to save Tutsis. Repeatedly he derided her, evening threatening to turn her in for her defiance. But she said to her husband, “How can you accept for Thomas to be killed? He is a boy just like our son. They are the same age and should have the same future. I will accept to be killed with them but I cannot refuse to save them.”At one point Thomas asked Josephine what his new father had said of him being there. Josephine refused to tell the boy that her husband thought that he was a threat and lied saying only, “The killings will stop soon.”
Numerous times the family escaped death and helped Thomas and several others to survive. Josephine said that her sons were happy to help and enjoyed playing with Thomas. Unfortunately, both of her teenage sons died after being recruited to fight in the Congo. They did not get to know that Thomas survived.
Josephine says that her regret during the genocide is that she did not save more people. She informed us that Thomas is alive and well, completing a university degree in management. “He calls me mom and I call him my son,” concluded Josephine beaming with pride and exuding great joy.
Following the genocide, Josephine was taunted and bullied for saving Tutsis. She recounted an instance where community members took all of her bananas and threw them into the lake. Ultimately, some local authorities had to threaten to arrest those harassing her in order for them to stop. She received little recognition for her heroic actions. One survivor said, “I will give you a cow because you saved me.”
Josephine’s story was a tremendous example of self-sacrifice, courage, perseverance, and extraordinary love. After listening to her story, I thought to myself: If the only thing I did on this trip was sit at Josephine’s feet and listen to her story, it was worth traveling across the world.
We are sometimes starved for heroes. On this trip I have gained a better grasp of the wide range of human action, from the capacity for great evil to the capacity for great goodness. Who are your heroes? Can you give examples of extreme vice and extreme virtue? How important is it to have heroes to emulate rather than only tyrants to condemn?
In gratitude for her support of this trip, this post is dedicated to Pat McGowan.