Editor's Note: This article was written by representatives of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
Approximately 80 students from the Voices of the Past classes, (Calhoun’s program in genocide and human rights), taught by Social Studies teacher Dr. David Goldberg and English teacher Ms. Julie Rosslee, listened intently as Mr. Carl Wilkens shared his experiences in Rwanda.
Wilkens moved his wife and children to Rwanda in the spring of 1990. In 1994, when the genocide began, he was the only American who chose to remain in the country.
Venturing out each day into streets crackling with mortars and gunfire, he worked his way through roadblocks of angry, bloodstained soldiers and civilians armed with machetes and assault rifles in order to bring food, water and medicine to groups of orphans trapped around the city. His choice to stay and help resulted in preventing the massacre of more than 1,000 people, hundreds of whom were children, over the course of the genocide.
Wilkens returned to the United States in 1996. Currently, he and his wife Teresa are dedicating themselves to sharing their experiences with students, teachers, activists, policy-makers and community members through their educational nonprofit, World Outside My Shoes organization.
Wilkens uses a storytelling format with slides, and while sharing his experiences of what day to day life in Rwanda was like during the genocide, he focuses on the courage and resilience he witnessed with people facing horrendous choices in the middle of unimaginable slaughter.
He inspires and equips listeners to stand up against injustices at home and abroad, as well as re-evaluating the relationships we are part of everyday. He teaches participants how one person really can make a difference.
Did your child see his presentation? Tell us about it in the comments section below.