Immaculee Ilibagiza: The Heroine’s Journey

Researching further works has led me down many avenues but none so dark, disturbing and remarkable than Immaculee’s story.

This ‘About’ extract is taken direct from her [rather spectacular] website [no disrespect but she is evidently under management…], I would challenge anyone, male or female, to read her story without horror. Whilst personally not a ‘believer’ in some guy in the sky it is her sense of self and strength of character I find so incredibly moving. Very unsure that this is anything that could ever be the justification for a painting but inspirational none the less…

‘Immaculée Ilibagiza was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. Education was very important in her household, so it was no surprise that she did well in school and went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 that Immaculée’s life was transformed forever.

On April 6 of that year, the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculée’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughtering of men, women and children.

To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculée’s father told her to run to a local pastor’s house for protection. The pastor quickly sheltered Immaculée and seven other women in a hidden 3 x 4 foot bathroom. For the next 91 days, Immaculée and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country. 

While in hiding, anger and resentment were destroying Immaculée’s mind, body and spirit. It was then that Immaculée turned to prayer. Prior to going to the pastor’s home, Immaculée’s father, a devout Catholic, gave her a set of rosary beads. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the anger inside her, and the evil outside the house. It was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Immaculée.

In addition to finding faith, peace, and hope during those three months of hiding, Immaculée also taught herself English. Immaculée was always a good student and already fluent in Kinyarwanda and French. Using only a Bible and a dictionary, she spent countless hours in that cramped bathroom learning her third language. 

After 91 days, Immaculée was finally liberated from her hiding place only to face a horrific reality. Immaculée emerged from that small bathroom weighing just 65 pounds, and finding her entire family brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. She also found nearly one million of her extended family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rwandans massacred.

After the genocide, Immaculée came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, Immaculée was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”

Find her full story here:

Immaculee

 

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