Paul Rusesabagina spoke on Tuesday at BYU. I liked how he titled his presentation: “Hotel Rwanda: A story yet to be told” – because the story is not over yet, and each of us can be a small part of making it a better story than it otherwise would be.
In both Rwanda and Burundi there was a genocide of nearly a million people in the last two decades (15% of the population). Paul Rusesabagina stands in stark contrast to the ethnic violence as an example of someone willing to risk his own life to stand against the prejudice and senseless violence that erupted there.
He argued that the majority of the ordinary people do not hate each other so much, but that very poor leadership will take advantage of differences in order to divide and conquer.
He shared some powerful and sobering stories of the past and current situation.
For example, imagine trying to rescue dozens of people from an ethnic group (different from you) who are being called “cockroaches” and exterminated – police stop your car, they call you a traitor, and demand you to take their gun and shoot everyone in your car or else they will shoot you. You know they are serious because you see dead bodies scattered around you. What would you do?
Paul Rusesabagina faced this exact situation, he did not back down, did not give in, and through quick thinking was able to tell the guards that he understood they were tired and frustrated, but that there was an alternative situation, another option to solve the problems they face. He said he learned through this experience that as long as you can get people to speak with you, then you can always negotiate an alternative course of action. He was able to save the lives of not only these people, but over a thousand others who took refuge in the hotel that he managed.
Towards the end of his speech he encouraged all of us there: “Don’t stand by. Stand up, and do what you can, do what you can to help Africa. You can do something.” He said that if you don’t stand up for what is good, then the world will fail, but that we are the hope of the world if we do stand up. He said that if you want the world to get better, you can make it better. If you want it to stay the way it is, it will stay.
The question I ask myself is:
How can I stand up? What best could I do that would actually make a difference?
Listening to him made me think about the conference I am helping organize in Africa (Uganda) this summer – Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). It seems like a small drop in the ocean of what could be done to assist those in disadvantaged situations, but at least it is something.
I am always keeping my eyes and mind open for other meaningful things that I could be involved in, or even just be aware of and support in some way – so if you can think of anything, then let me know. I feel like getting involved in things that help are usually reciprocal and end up benefiting all involved.