A girl who was orphaned at the age of two during the 1994 Rwandan genocide has recently found some of her relatives thanks to the “miracle” of social media.
Grace Umutoni, who did not know her birth name, put up several photos of herself on various WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter in April to see if she could track down members of her family – having failed to find them through more official routes.
All the 28-year-old nurse knew about her background was that she had been brought to an orphanage in the capital, Kigali, from the city’s Nyamirambo neighbourhood, with her brother, who was four at the time and later died.
There are thousands of children like Ms Utomoni, who lost or were separated from their parents during the chaos of the genocide in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days.
Many are still searching for clues about their family – sometimes made even harder as families don’t traditionally share surnames.
After she posted her photos, a few people claimed to be relatives – but it was only several months later that someone came forward who sounded plausible.
Antoine Rugagi had seen the photos on a WhatsApp group and contacted her to say that she looked very much like his sister, Liliose Kamukama, who was killed in the first days of the genocide in April 1994.
‘The miracle I have prayed for’
“When I saw him, I also saw how we looked alike,” Ms Umutoni told BBC Great Lakes about the man who could be her uncle.
“But only DNA tests could confirm if we were related, so we went to take these in Kigali this July.”
Ms Umutoni travelled south from Gakenke district where she works and Mr Rugagi came from his home in Gisenyi in the west so that they could pick the results up together.
It proved to be a big day for both of them as the tests showed there was an 82% chance they were related.
“I was shocked, I could not hold myself from expressing my happiness, even today I think I am in a dream, it was the miracle I have always prayed for,” says Ms Umutoni.
Her newly found uncle told her that the name given to her by her Tutsi parents was Yvette Mumporeze.
He was also able to introduce her to relatives on her father’s side of the family.
This included Marie Josée Tanner Bucura, her paternal aunt, who has been stuck in Switzerland for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the DNA test results were out, she was convinced that Grace Umutoni was her niece after comparing her photo to those in an old family album.
“This girl was clearly the daughter of my brother Aprice Jean Marie Vianney and his wife Liliose Kamukama. They were both killed in the genocide.”
‘We thought no-one survived’
Mrs Bucura was also able to tell her that the full name of her brother who went with her to the orphanage was Yves Mucyo – she had only remembered his first name – and that she had also had a one-year-old brother called Fabrice.
The genocide began after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi – who were both Hutu – was shot down on the night of 6 April 1994, and the killings started the next day.
Hutu militias were told to hunt down members of the minority Tutsi community – and the suburb of Nyamirambo in Kigali was one of the first places to be targeted.