6,000 victims, 12 survivors

Survived genocide as an 8 year old. Charles Mugabe should not be alive. Now he spends his summer vacations guiding visitors through the church turned memorial where he watched his twin brother die. He witnessed a killer decapitating a woman with a machete, hid for 3 days in piles of bodies and then escaped killers for 3 weeks by swimming through swamps. Charles is lucky.

He was one of 12 innocent Tutsis who hobbled out of the brick church. 6,000 other people were murdered where they sought shelter, in the sanctuary in Nyamata, a town 20 miles from the capital. The milita and soldiers used grenades, guns, machetes, clubs and sticks to slaughter them. Outside the church they slaughtered 6,000 more in a few days in April 1994. It was the beginning of the Rwandan genocide that claimed more than 1,000,000 lives in 100 days.

Charles survived by hiding his head in a hole 2 bricks wide and 4 bricks tall near the altar of the church. Before his brother died, he smeared blood all over Charles so that the Interahamwe (Kinyarwanda for: those who attack together) militia would think he was dead. For three days he tried not to move as the killers intermittently probed bodies to see if anyone was still alive. Eventually they found him by poking bodies. When they speared his ankle, he screamed. A scar remains. In the chaos Charles pleaded for his life. The killer spared him and told him to be quiet so no one else would know. He has no idea why. When he did finally leave along with the other 11 survivors, the killers heard footsteps. They fled back into the church and overheard the killers saying they would post a guard and come back in the morning to take care of the rest.

He and the others managed to sneak out. The killers spotted them again so they hid in a pile of bodies outside the church for another day eventually escaping to the swamps where they lived like hunted animals for 21 days.

Today, Charles is a soft spoken 23 year-old student in secondary school studying construction. Having lost nearly his entire family Charles now lives with one of 4 remaining survivors of the church massacre still living in Rwanda. He bounced from temporary homes to an orphanage to his grandmother's home as an adolescent. She died of natural causes in 2003. He asserts that he has not been traumatized by his experiences, though he says he flashes on the one murder he remembers vividly-- the decapitation of a woman with one slash of the machete. Charles believes that telling his story to visitors helps him to cope with these horrific memories.

Despite his unbelievable escape, Charles seems at peace. He strongly believes in the power of reconciliation to heal his community. For him it begins with a killer apologizing and confessing his crimes, only then, he told us, can the process move forward. It seems impossible to many of us. He insists that it is.

As we move forward we'll share more stories of the people we meet. We also hope to share some of what happens behind the scenes, negotiating in a third world country, working with our amazing Rwanda team, and adventures in finding the basic necessities.

Tomorrow we will be at REACH's grand opening of the Center for Unity and Peace, a project 8 years in the making. Then, we will join about 20,000 of our closest friends at the Amohoro National Stadium for the Hope Festival-- look for more on that this weekend (if our internet continues to function as well as it has been!)

--Adam Mazo, Director: Reconciliation's Reach Kigali, Rwanda July 16th