For many, the atrocities and tribulations of war are something to be studied, read safely from history textbooks but not actually experienced. However, Carl Wilkens willingly remained in Rwanda in 1994 during that country’s genocide, one of the worst genocides in history.
Wilkens, who was invited by social studies teacher Hilary McDaniel, will talk Tuesday during fourth and sixth periods and tutorial in the Social Studies Resource Center about his experiences as an American in the Rwandan Genocide.
“I arranged for Carl Wilkens to come speak to students … about his experience during the Rwandan Genocide and his efforts since then, in teaching about community and inclusion,” McDaniel said.
Wilkens, a former head of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in Rwanda, was the only American who chose to remain in Rwanda after the genocide began.
According to Wilken’s official website, “his choice to stay and try to help resulted in preventing the massacre of hundreds of children over the course of the genocide.”
Although the genocide is a grisly topic, McDaniel believes that Wilkens will address the subject in an encouraging manner.
“While one might think that covering a topic like genocide would be sad and depressing, Carl presents a very positive and uplifting message,” McDaniel said. “He teaches students how to connect with people they have never met and who live on the other side of the world and explains how we can all be partners in making this world a better place.”
McDaniel believes that it is vital for students to learn about both the positive and negative perspectives of historical events to fully understand the matter.
“Most students have only heard negative things about Africa from the media: wars, poverty, disease,” McDaniel said. “While this is part of the story of Africa, it is not the single story of Africa, and it is vital that educators who teach about this region highlight the positive as much as the negative.”
Additionally, by educating about the affirmative aspects of war, the unity and justice it creates, it teaches students about the effectiveness and influence of taking action.
“Teaching about the Rwandan Genocide, as I do, could fall into the pattern of only covering the negative, but through teaching about transitional justice, the commitment of individuals to address issues within their communities and the role the international community can play, students see the power of action,” McDaniel said.
For McDaniel, Wilkens embodies a powerful message.
“Carl Wilkens provides a real life example of how ‘ordinary’ people can make the biggest difference,” McDaniel said. “He saved more lives during the genocide than the President of the United States, Bill Clinton. He tells stories of the brave Rwandan men and women who did what they could to help during the genocide and the extraordinary efforts they have made to rebuild their country. Having Mr. Wilkens speak to the students leaves a lasting, positive impression of Rwanda and its people.”