Humanitarian shares what he saw during Rwandan genocide
Posted February 9
An American humanitarian who was in Rwanda in 1994 recounted to students about what it was like living through the Rwandan genocide, during which 800,000 people were killed.
With photos and personal stories, Carl Wilkens, the former head of Adventist Development Relief Agency International in Rwanda, described the conditions in his neighborhood, where many of his neighbors were killed because they were Tutsi. The mass killings in 1994 were partly rooted in the ethnic tensions between the Tutsi and Hutu groups.
“From our bedroom window, we could hear horrible sounds—pounding, screaming,” Wilkens said. “Do we stay or do we go?” He made his presentation to social studies teacher Heather Washington’s human rights classes Feb. 9.
When peacekeeping troops evacuated the foreigners in Rwanda, Wilkens chose to stay behind to help. He told stories about securing food and water for an orphanage just up the road from where his family lived. In one of the miracles he witnessed during the genocide, Wilkens asked a prime minister—-a Hutu government official who was integral in planning the genocide—-about sparing the orphanage from gunfire, and the prime minister agreed. Ultimately, Wilkens saved 400 orphans from being massacred.
Wilkens related many of his experiences to what students can do in their daily lives. He told them that they may not be faced with the grim choices like he was, but he encouraged them to make sound decisions, such as picking up trash or stopping derogatory comments when they hear them.
“Every single person has choices,” he said. “We have to opportunity to say something when we see something that’s not right. Rarely are we alone in recognizing wrong.”
Senior Claire Stone, who has read about Wilkens and studied what he has done, enjoyed getting a first-hand account of what occurred in Rwanda.
“He represents integrity,” she said in her introduction to the assembled students. “He did what he did because it was the right thing to do and not because it was for personal gain. That’s integrity. That’s what our teachers teach us to do.”
For Heather Washington, she credits Wilkens for saving more lives than the Western governments did. As part of her human rights course, she uses the genocide in Rwanda as a case study and asks her students about what should have been done.
“If you look at genocide, it’s so mind-blowing and dark, yet at the same time, you see amazing individuals,” she said. “You see humans at their best.”