on May 16th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Setting: Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, U.S.
This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.
Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe. Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo. They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.
War was a constant backdrop in her life. Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living. It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider. Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.
Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.
They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people. Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot. Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed. Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range. Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.
In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned. Her little sister was dead. Her brother was severely injured.
The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States. They thought their lives would be fine then. They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States. They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo. Now they were living in poverty. People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa. Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English. The family survived numerous setbacks in America. Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe. She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.
Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her. The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much. She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD. How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family? Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine. Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother. Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.
This book is written very simply. It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment. It is geared towards YA readers.
I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre. The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi. No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.