Genocide hero gifted cow named after Scotland's national poet

A man who saved the life of a baby during the Rwanda genocide has been presented with a cow named after Scotland's national poet.

"Burns" is a thank you gift for Amiel Mbarubukeye who found Delphine while burying bodies of massacred Tutsis in 1994.

He realised the badly injured infant lying next to her dead mother was still alive.

Mr Mbarubukeye, who was a member of the Hutu ethnic group, wrapped her up in his jacket and hid her in bushes before later taking her home to his wife.

Amiel Mbarubukeye and “Burns”
Amiel Mbarubukeye and “Burns”

The couple had a baby of the same age and decided to look after the little girl until they could trace any surviving relatives.

It was a risk but they managed to keep her safe because no one could tell whether she was a Tutsi or a Hutu and the family was left alone.

The cow, a precious gift in Rwandan culture, was named after Robert Burns by Rev Chris Blackshaw, the Church of Scotland's minister for the farming community in Ayrshire.

He donated £250 to the Goboka Rwanda Trust, a UK-based charity, to buy the animal following a successful charity event he organised at Laigh Tarbeg dairy farm near Cumnock.

The news comes as people prepare to celebrate the 261-year birthday of the celebrated poet from Alloway near Ayr on January 25 and mark Holocaust Memorial Day, which has the theme "Stand Together, on January 27.

 Rev Chris Blackshaw
Rev Chris Blackshaw

Mr Mbarubukeye of Butembo village eventually traced baby Delphine's father, who was in Congo when around 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda in just 100 days between 7 April and 15 July 1994 by ethnic Hutu extremists.

Father and daughter were reunited and she is now a married mother of two and living in Kibuye.

Delphine presented Burns the cow to Mr Mbarubukeye at the opening of a new Reconciliation Centre at Butembo, an event attended by around 1,000 people.

To her surprise she was also gifted a cow, a symbol of wealth and social status, by the centre.

The woman and her protector both gave testimonies about the impact the courageous act had on them and the bond it created between the two families.

Love thy neighbour

Mr Blackshaw said: "I am delighted that some of the money we raised at our farm walk and praise event has been used to buy a cow for Mr Mbarubukeye.

"It is a touching and moving story because he was a Hutu and was burying the bodies of minority Tutsis who were persecuted and he decided to save an innocent life instead.

"The presentation of cows to Mr Mbarubukeye and Delphine is an incredible indication of reconciliation following a dark time in that country's history.

"In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commanded that ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself' and this selfless story is an expression of that."

L- R - Bishop Samuel Kayinamura - head of the Free Methodist Church in Rwanda, Amiel Mbarubukeye, Heather Thomas of The Goboka Rwanda Trust, Delphine, Amon Ndanyuzwe - Delphine’s real father.

Heather Thomas, chief executive of Goboka Rwanda Trust, said the charity's mission is to work with Rwandan partners on schemes of reconciliation.

"We know that it is only by forgiveness and moving forward together in unity that the country can face a peaceful future as a united country," she added.

"To gift a cow to someone who risked their life for a neighbour who they have been told to kill is an outward acknowledgement of what it truly means to love your neighbour.

"In a world which seems increasingly divided and hostile, the people of Rwanda are a true example of what peace and reconciliation really means."

Supporting Scottish farmers

Mr Blackshaw has visited Rwanda, where people are no longer segregated as Tutsis and Hutus, and has supported the charity for a number of years.

Ms Thomas said: "I would like to thank people in Scotland who very generously gave so that Burns could be purchased.

"We are grateful for Chris's continued support in the work we do."

Money raised through the farm walk and praise event, attended by about 400 people, was also donated to the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution and Royal Highland Educational Trust.

Attached to the Presbytery of Ayr, Mr Blackshaw's principle role is to visit local farms to provide spiritual and family support, counselling and encouraging people to buy local produce.

Based in a livestock mart, the retired police sergeant has experience which enables him to provide support to people dealing with a wide range of issues such as bereavement, addictions, illness, depression, stress, suicide and isolation.

In 2017, a group of 10 young Christians and Muslims from across Scotland spent a week in Rwanda to learn how to build relationships across different racial, religious and cultural groups.

The theme of the visit was Peacebuilding across Borders.