Carl Wilkens, an American humanitarian who decided to stay in Rwanda during the genocide, came to North Dakota State to speak about what he learned from his experience.
The Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994 and was a movement by the Hutu to annihilate the Tutsi after three years of war.
Wilkens’ story began when he moved to Rwanda with his wife and started a family there. In their house they had two workers, both of which were Tutsi.
One night, a few days before genocide broke out, gang members showed up at his house with intentions to kill him, but his neighbors stood in front of the gate and defended him and his family.
Wilkens made the decision to stay because he knew that if he was to leave his workers would be slaughtered. He said that these people had become like family to him and he couldn’t just leave them to die.
He decided to stay, but his wife and children went back to America. He didn’t know what would come next.
After the genocide, Wilkens turned his experience into a mission of spreading good. He has been speaking to school groups and the like for over 23 years. He spends his time highlighting what genocide is and sharing facts from the Rwandan genocide.
Wilkens shared facts like 80 percent of the population was affiliated with a religious institution and that, in some cases, the institutions condoned the genocide.
He showed images of dead families and a picture of men and women who admitted to killing their neighbors years after the genocide occurred.
The challenges the country faced after the genocide ended were larger than rebuilding infrastructure or the economy, but rebuilding trust between neighbors and colleagues, rebuilding dignity and taking pride in their country again.
Today, Rwanda looks nothing like it did more than 20 years ago. Today, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world (64 percent), a high population of children in school and the ninth fastest growing economy on the planet.
Wilkens preached that genocide doesn’t stem from nowhere, but from a place of superiority or thinking that people come from a place that is so separate from your own that they are lesser people.
He spoke about the disconnect people make on a daily basis between their coworkers’ and doctors’ heritage and their right to exist as a human being.
The solution to genocide, Wilkens proposed, was love for all people.