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Once at the center of genocide, now at the center of Patriots’ basketball team

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By The Staff

SCC Sports Information

One of the four languages spoken by Jean Pierre Uwamahoro is English. And while his heavy accent sometimes makes his words hard to decipher, he speaks one word very clearly – genocide. It is a word the Rwandan native pronounces well, and very unfortunately, understands well.

It was at age six that Uwamahoro, now a towering 7-foot center for the St. Catharine College basketball team, got his first horrifying look at genocide when, as a member of the Tutsi tribe, he and his family were targeted by the rival Hutu tribe. He recalls very well that April 6, 1994 day that forever changed his life.

“Me and my family heard shooting guns, people screaming, cattle raided and houses burnt down. People were running looking for a place to hide,” recalls the soft spoken giant who’s known around campus as Peter.

The place to hide was at a church where nearly 10,000 Tutsi gathered for three days in hopes that the Hutu would not attack them there. After three days in the church, with no food and water, those hopes were dashed when the Hutu began a massacre. Uwamahoro recalls the carnage with a faraway stare, often pausing as he shakes his head in disbelief that such brutality could occur.

“They came with different weapons like guns, grenades, machetes, arrows and swords,” he remembers. “They threw the grenades into the people in the church. A fragment caught my sister’s throat and she was killed on the spot. My brother was injured and couldn’t move.”

Peter was able to run from the church, but was caught by the Hutu soldiers who knocked him out with a blow to the side of his head. When he regained consciousness he found himself lying in a pile of dead bodies, obviously also left for dead by the enemy.

He continues, “My clothes had turned red because of the blood of mine and my fellows. I went to check on my relatives and found my sister dead, but my little brother still breathing.”

Peter later found that his little brother was killed, and an older brother, whose ankles were cut by the Hutu, was left to die of starvation. Before dying, his older brother recounted the vicious killing of his mother, and a neighbor related how his father was murdered with a machete. The only positive news was that his older sister was able to escape along with two younger sisters.

So now the Uwamahoro family of nine was reduced to four, Peter and his three sisters. Once the violence abated, the four were reunited at a Red Cross camp and then sent to an orphanage for children who had no parents. The older sister remained in Rwanda where her husband serves in the army. Peter, who became an outstanding volleyball player on the national team in Rwanda, left the country in 2007 with his two younger sisters and migrated to Houston, Texas.

His basketball career was launched just a year ago when former St. Catharine coach Wade O’ Connor signed Uwamahoro to a scholarship. Needless to say, the trip from Rwanda to St. Catharine via Houston has been somewhat of a culture shock, but one that the amicable Patriot center has adjusted to quite well.

“He will listen to everything you say, but he is very cautious about everything after what he has been through,” said current St. Catharine coach J.T. Burton. “He will ask questions and really wants to learn the game. He appreciates everything you do for him.”

“I really like it here because the teachers are so helpful. I made an A in English,” said Peter, flashing the broad smile that has made him a favorite of the Patriot fans. “I would like to stay here, and I would really like to get my sisters here if we could find a family for them to live with.”

Uwamahoro played sparingly in his first season of college basketball. He played in 26 games, averaging about seven minutes a game. In those games he totaled 32 points and grabbed 53 rebounds. He has a lot of basketball to learn and he is aware that coaches sometimes get a little discouraged when players don’t pick things up readily in practice.

“I say all the time, be patient with me,” he said of the coaching staff. “I will do my best and focus on getting better.’

Jean Pierre Uwamahoro turned 21 years old last week, and much of his focus to this point has been directed to just staying alive. It is unimaginable how anyone would not be patient with him.