For Antoinette Umugwaneza, leaving Rwanda and moving, eventually, to New Zealand was definitely not her choice. She was happy where she was and with her life and career, but civil war made her one of millions of Rwandan refugees who left their home country for safety in the 1990s. Horowhenua Chronicle editor Janine Baalbergen talks to her as part of our series on refugees.
"Every time I think about that day I feel chills in my body."
Antoinette Umugwaneza is talking about April 6, 1994, a day that changed everything.
She is Hutu, the largest of the three main ethnic groups in Burundi and Rwanda.
Eighty-four per cent of Rwandans and 85 per cent of Burundians are Hutu, with Tutsis the next largest ethnic group at 15 per cent and 14 per cent of residents in Rwanda and Burundi, respectively.
A Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, invaded Rwanda from Uganda and started a civil war in 1990.
On April 6, 1994, a plane which had both the Rwandan and the Burundi presidents on board was shot down. There has never been an official investigation of the assassination of the two presidents, despite the fact that no one denies it sparked the genocide of the Tutsis and the killing of millions of Hutus.
"Whoever was behind that assassination knew the consequences of it and has betrayed the peace to Rwandans," she said.
Many people were killed in their own villages and towns by neighbours and fellow villagers. Gangs also roamed the streets and searched out people hiding in schools and churches.
"We were abandoned by the whole world and left to die like animals," Antoinette said.
Antoinette remembers that day when it began like no other day in her life.
"I ran for my life as the mass killing of people began," she said.
She was well educated and worked in a bank. The country had been embroiled in civil war for four years by then.
"There were clashes between various ethnic groups. In the chaos after the killing of the president, extremists on both sides started killing each other. It was very chaotic. You didn't know where to go."
On April 9 she left her home, abandoning it, not even taking any luggage, "just a bowl of rice for my 15 month old baby".
"Everyone in my house, husband, four daughters and a friend's son, piled into the car and left. By then the killing had been coming closer and closer."
First they fled to the central city, but the killings followed them and houses and buildings were blown up.
"There were piles of bodies everywhere. We fled from place to place and from house to house."
Eventually the killing stopped and the Tutsi rebels took power.
"It was so tense. There was a power vacuum, and the lack of any authority meant no one did anything to stop it."
She said she lost hundreds of family members.
It's estimated that over the course of about 100 days, up to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in the Rwandan genocide.
Antoinette's family left Rwanda in July that year and do not ever expect to be able to return.
"We followed the news on the radio as we fled to try and stay ahead."
When she got to Kenya she was reunited with her siblings, who had also fled.
By 1996 Kenya tried to persuade Rwanda's refugees to return home, saying it was safe now.
"We were given the option to go home or be put in jail," Antoinette said.
So they moved on, again and again. They were fortunate enough to be accepted to come to New Zealand as a family in that same year.
Raising five young children, away from home, was extremely difficult. The feeling of isolation and the home sickness was huge. Her children were lucky to come with their grandmother.
"She has been a blessing to the whole family. " Antoinette said.
Antoinette has grown up in the city and has worked for a bank, but despite her experience she was struggling with the language and understanding the New Zealand health and education systems.
Despite the hardship she said she and many refugees have proven to be resilient people.
"We are all fighters, but I have found that anything can trigger the past trauma. We focus on the good things, but the hurt never really goes away. The fear was the worst and the longing for home remains."
She said her four daughters and her son had done well here in New Zealand.
"I can still see the trauma and the confusion in their eyes. They want to know what happened, how come we are here and not in Rwanda. They want to know where they are from, about their grandparents and other ancestors."
"We adapt as much as we can and have made the best of our new home. We all want to do something for our new home."
The motto of their family is the John F Kennedy quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Today Antoinette works for the Red Cross as a settlement liaison officer, so she helps other refugees settle in.
"It is still hard to hear other refugees tell their stories. I try to be there for them and listen. There is no magic solution. Not knowing where your family members are or thinking of dangerous situations they are living in is very hard for refugees."
She said her father was killed when she was 6 and her four sisters and two brothers live in Europe, but they haven't heard anything from or about their extended family members since they left Rwanda 25 years ago.
Antoinette has been in New Zealand a long time and feels part of the community.
"Kiwis are amazing and very kind."
Her advice for the people of Levin is to just listen to the refugees who will be turning up in town from mid next year.
"Do not see them as a group, see each individual and their life and possibilities. Try not to be judgmental or have any assumptions about your new neighbours.
"Refugees have a lot to offer but they need a chance to regain their identity. Find out about the various cultures once you know who is coming to your town and enjoy the diversity.
As a Hutu from Rwanda she is aware what assumptions can do and knows the reputation that has been created about Hutu due to the Rwandan genocide, but the bad people are only part of the story, she said.
She said that there was a lot of manipulation and speculation around the genocide of Tutsis and the mass killing of Hutus and it did damage the humanity when people stereotyped a group as killers.
"These kind of stereotypes hurt and this can harm future generations for all," she said.
"All my life I have been a victim of all kinds of stereotypes and know how much harm this can cause."
Her Tutsi mother raised 10 young children on her own.
"Mum tried her best to keep us safe and integrated in a very difficult situation.
"I ran for my life in 1994 and I am lucky to be alive and grateful to New Zealand for giving me and my family a home. If people understand that no one becomes a refugee by choice this would make life much easier for everyone"
Levin will be one of a number of regional centres to house refugees from next year. In this series the Horowhenua Chronicle looks at what creates refugees and what happens to them on the journey to New Zealand. We investigate how refugees are prepared for life in our country and what our local community can do to help these people find a safe, new place they can call home. This article is the fifth in the series.
Another refugee from Africa, Sahra was only nine when she realised that all was not right in her home country of Somalia. Over the next decade the situation in Mogadishu deteriorated and Sahra was forced to flee to New Zealand. Now she calls Aotearoa home and is a successful nurse and mental health advocate for her local community.