Rakiya Omaar says the militia had killed all the prominent people and that they were getting impatient. In addition, they realized that their time, in terms of cleaning up the genocide and making sure there were no witnesses, was drawing to a close.
photo by Corinne Dufka
Just as the militiaman were closing in on Gisimba, Carl showed up delivering water.
"And then, all of a sudden, these militia guys began to appear, circling the whole compound. All of them with assault rifles and grenades and stuff. Then all of a sudden, a car comes sliding in the dirt parking lot there. A cloud of dust, and out gets a guy we called Little Hitler."
Carl says 'Little Hitler' went up to an orphanage worker and demanded to know where Damas was hiding. When the worker did not answer, they shot him to death. Carl began calling for help on his car radio.
"I called Phillip at the Red Cross and said 'I don't know where Damas is. We're surrounded. Looks like we're about to have a massacre. How can you help me?'"
Carl eventually got Kigali police to show up and stop the attack.
"I drove out of there, past all the barriers. Militia didn't hassle me. I said I'm going to the prefecture office. I went there and the secretary who had befriended me said, 'Listen Wilkens, the prime minister is here today. Why don't you ask him for help ? [This was] after I had explained my situation and I said, 'What?! The prime minister? That's like asking the devil for help!'"
"When you'd get into situations where you'd look for an ally, you'd look around for some sign of sympathy, whether it was just a look or a glance, and you'd appeal to that part in them. And so, when the prime minister comes out with his entourage, I stand up and say, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm Carl Wilkens, Director of ADRA.' And he looks at me and says, 'Yeah, I've heard about you and your work. How's your work going?' I say, 'Not well sir, all the orphans are going to be killed.' He stops and confers with assistants. Turns back to me and says, 'I'm aware of situation and we'll see to security of your orphans.' And he was gone."
Alphonse remembers the militiamen coming into the orphanage. "They came kicking doors open, telling us to get onto the buses. We didn't know where we were going, but Carl Wilkens had made some sort of a deal for the militia to let us go."
With defeat to the advancing Tutsi rebel army increasingly certain, the extremist Hutu regime was collapsing. Some genocide leaders now sought to curry favor with the international community. They wanted to deny that all Tutsis had been targeted for killing. So, in a strange twist, the Gisimba orphans were escorted through the bloody streets of Kigali by a top militia leader to sanctuary at the Church of Saint Michael.
Gisimba waited for his orphans at the church, uncertain whether Carl's plan would work. When the buses finally arrived, the orphans were euphoric at the site of their "Papa Damas."
"They didn't know where they were going," says Gisimba, "They didn't even know I was still alive. So when they saw me, everyone shouted with joy; the children, my parents, the old people, everybody cried. It was like a miracle for them to see me still alive."
"Later," says Gisimba, "A soldier came up and said, 'Who is this man Gisimba? We were told all these people are for Gisimba.' They expected some sort of big, important man. I said, 'I am Gisimba.' They asked how I managed to keep so many people alive for so long. I answered with a Rwandan proverb: 'Even if an animal comes to you for protection, you give it sanctuary.'"