Maria Urayeneza was born on November 14, 1955. She married her husband Silas Habiyambere in 1976. Their family is very united and guided by Christian values, and Silas worked as a catechist for many years. During the Tutsi genocide, Silas and Maria lived with their children Perpetue, aged thirteen, Népomuscène, aged eleven, Joseph, aged nine, Evelyne, aged seven, and little Jeanne, aged about three.
Silas is related to Bagambiki, Cyangugu's prefect. At that time, being related to a politician was a reason for many Rwandans to flaunt power, which led many Hutus to side with the early killers of the Tutsis. Silas and his family, however, behaved differently and chose to protect several Tutsis. During the genocide, Silas and Maria set an example of humanity, saving large numbers of Tutsis from certain death.
Bernadette is one of those rescued by Silas and Maria. The Hutu had gathered her family and many others in a house called "Burende", where they were only waiting for death. Bernadette tells how Silas secretly went there and asked if he could save at least one little girl (since he could not save everyone). Silas eventually managed to take Bernadette with him, while all the others who were locked up in that house were burned alive a few days later.
Similarly, when she learned about a certain Yusufu perpetrating a massacre in a parish in Shangi, Maria reached the site to see if she could save anyone. She traveled along, walking for more than two hours in the woods, eventually rescuing Jean-Paul and Vincent. Jean-Paul and Vincent consequently had to move to the Nyarushishi refugee camp to escape the terrible threats they received.
Silas, Maria, and their children risked their lives many times trying to save the people they hid at their place. They used to hide people in the straw of the animals, in the house's attic, in the tea plantation near their home, or, else, in the pit where they fermented bananas.
Emerthe, one of the people hidden by Silas, tells how, one day, the torturers caught her to kill her. Silas reached the torturers, who spit him in the face as a sign of contempt. He then managed to bribe them with money and return home with Emerthe. Silas and his family also rescued Théophile, who arrived at their place with his head battered by several machete blows, medicating and later transferring him to the Nyarushishi refugee camp.
Silas and Maria helped many others. At the moment, we could count 54 people, of which 31 survived while 23, despite the help of Silas and Maria, were unfortunately killed.
Reported by Jean-Paul Habimana, who survived thanks to Silas and Maria and who is the author of "Despite the Fear, Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda"