During his Rwanda Today workshop, Carl Wilkens displayed a picture of a scenic view from a hill in Rwanda accompanied with an anecdote. Wilkens recalled that when he took that picture, he was expressing disbelief towards a Rwandan friend that wanted to build a gondola lift up the scenic hill to a proposed guest house. In response to his disbelief, his friend replied with the the only two English words he knew, “Is possible.”
Wilkens has come to QLC to talk to us about him and his wife’s, Teresa Wilkens, work in Rwanda after they chose to stay behind during the genocide, “My wife was really the only one in my family who supported me during this cause. Most of my family were telling me to get out of there, but I probably would have reacted the same way if I was in their place”. The main topic behind the workshop was to educate people that Rwanda has changed and managed to move past the tragedy and rebuild themselves through unity, “It’s really important that everyone is involved in both the reconciliation and the physical building of the damage after the genocide. A lot of contributors to the genocide have been building homes for widows, they’ve been doing radical terracing [a method of agriculture], and building schools.”
Wilkens emphasized the importance of forgiveness and leaving the bad blood created by the genocide behind, “I think they demonstrated that there is a way to live together in the future and contribute to rebuilding the country they were part of destroying.” Wilkens also discussed a project where civilians would write letters to the people they lost in the genocide, “When we remember the loved ones we lost during the genocide, we don’t remeber them anymore, they are forever frozen in this box of genocide.” This project gives us the opportunity to communicate to those we lost and remember them for who they were rather than the tragedy behind them.
They even moved the project to Rwandan prisons, where contributors to the genocide actually wrote letters to the victims. It was also discussed how the idea of revenge through acts like, public executions, have held the country back from unity. When telling a story from a Rwandan citizen regarding attending an execution of a genocide convict, Wilkens recalled “As the blood of the execution started to pour on the ground, it reminded him of the blood of his family.”
However, Wilkens also wanted to clear the air of any unanswered minsonceptions regarding the genocide and its aftermath, “People often thought that it was all just about the Hutus and Tutsis and they don’t recognize that it was really politically driven. There were actually many Hutus and Tutsis that loved each other. The planners of the genocide actually had to work really hard to break the bonds between Hutus and Tutsis.”
But like many societies today, there was still some prejudice present in Rwanda, “There were still some prejudices just like any society, so for their own political means to stay in power, they exploited those prejudices. But for people to think that the genocide happened because one group hated another group is completely untrue. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions.”
While the Rwandan genocide may haunt many, it is important to abandon bad blood and find the silver lining. Carl and Teresa Wilkens definitely found it and for more information on the issue please visit their website, worldoutsidemyshoes.org.
By: Sarra Hamid