HOUSTON (FOX 26) - 25 years ago, the Rwanda genocide began, lasting 100 days and leaving close to a million people dead. FOX 26 sat down with a survivor of the massacre, a woman who is currently make a positive impact here in the Houston area by sharing her story of survival.
“It was horrific. There were dead bodies at every corner, you couldn’t go a mile without seeing the dead body that’s how bad it was," recalls Jeanne Celestine-Lakin of her life in Rwanda during the genocide that lasted 100 days in 1994.
The massacre of the Tutsi people, the minority group in the country, left a death toll close to a million people. The result of decades of power struggle and segregation between the Tutsi and Hutu people.
Celestine-Lakin was only 9 years old, and she tells us the moment when she first realized things were not right in her country.
“We were told to be seated by our ethnic groups. So Tutsi on one side, the Hutu on the other side and the Twa and so forth, and I remember just going in my head going like I have no idea who I am because my parents didn’t discuss ethnicity at home.”
"We are all children of God," her parents told her. However, that did not stop the Hutu political elite from putting their plan into action.
"So you have these people sort of like brainwashed to think that Tutsi’s are no longer human, that we were cockroaches that was how they referred to us, we are snakes, and so machetes have been purchased prior to the genocide," she said.
The borders of Rwanda were closed and the blood shed began.
“It was horrific, a three week old little baby was just butchered with machetes with my mom, my aunties, my uncles, everybody was just wiped away within three months," she says. "I watched my father being hacked with machetes. I saw when they found him and that they just you know from left and right from back in front with machetes and he collapsed and they just slaughtered him in the streets."
Jeanne took her 3-year-old twin sisters and hid with them in bushes for two and a half months, surviving on grass, plants, and seeds. There were many narrow escapes, but Jeanne and her siblings managed to survive. Years later at the age of 14, a foster family brought her to the United States. She began a new life, went to college, and now works as an International Advisor at Lone Star College.
She has never forgotten about her family and all the horrific things she faced. She decided to document them, and wrote a book titled “A Voice in the Darkness.” She says she is sharing her story to give a voice to the voiceless.
Jeanne Celestine-Lakin is passionate about helping orphans from across the world, and fellow survivors of the Rwanda genocide.
Proceeds from her book go to support those children, helping them with food, education, and long-term support. You can purchase the book on her website https://www.avoiceinthedarkness.org/