The Current

'I'm going to be killed': How this Montreal woman survived the Rwandan genocide

Odile Sanabaso survived the Rwanda massacre, but her personal disruption came from a family friend. She shares her story as part of The Disruptors.
Odile Sanabaso was nine-years-old when the Rwandan genocide began. But It was the betrayal from a family friend that changed her life forever. (Courtesy of Odile Sanabaso )

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>> This Moment of Disruption is part of our series The Disruptors

For Odile Sanabaso, the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis shaped her life from a young age, but it was the act of a longtime family friend that changed her world view and ability to trust.

Sanabaso was just nine-years-old when the Rwandan massacre swept through her home city of Nyanza. Her mother and five siblings moved to a nearby village hoping it would be a safer place to live.

Sanabaso chose to stay in Nyanza with her father.  But at one point, she lost track of him. 

"I was separated from my dad, so I was really on my own most of the time," she says.

As the killing spread, she was soon travelling alone, mostly at night, trying to avoid soldiers who were tracking down Tutsis like herself.   
Odile Sanabaso at age four (left), and then at eight-years-old, before the Rwandan massacre swept through her home city of Nyanza. (Courtesy of Odile Sanabaso )

No one knows exactly how many people were killed in Rwanda in the 1990's.  The estimates range from about 800,000 to one million people who were mostly of Tutsi heritage.   

Sanabaso tried to take refuge in the home of a family friend, an older Hutu woman. But one day, when she was called outside to eat, she was shocked to see five tall guys waiting for her.

"I'm thinking it's over. It's over. They had their machetes. I couldn't run away," she recalls.

"It's that point in time where you know it's over.  So I'm like, 'Okay, I'm going to be killed.' I'm scared and shaking."

Sanabaso says one of the guys knew her family well. She was taken on a long walk to a place in the woods where she was to be killed. 

"He was one of the killers, but for some reason he had empathy." 

Sanabaso says he gave her a choice: to run away or be killed. 

"I don't know what happened to him.  I'm sure he was in trouble for doing that.  But I'm very thankful for him.  He took a big risk. Though I know he's not clean because he was killing other people."

Sanabaso made it to an orphanage but never saw her parents and five siblings again. They were killed in the massacre.

Her older siblings, already living in Canada, took Sanabaso to Montreal where she currently lives.

Listen to Odile Sanabaso's full story at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.