Author brings Rwanda message to Austin
Rwanda’s 100 days of genocide had already begun in April 1994, and foreigners, including Americans, were fleeing the country when Carl Wilkens said, "I’m not leaving."
Soon, he would become the only American there throughout the most horrific tragedy on record for that little country, about the size of Maryland and nestled in the center of Africa. Wilkens was director of Adventist Development and Relief Agency International in the capital city of Kigali. He and his family had been in Africa for 10 years.
He will be at the Austin Public Library from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday to talk about his experiences, his book and his passion to help bring about a world free from the fear of genocide. The library, Austin's Human Rights Commission and the Welcome Center are cooperating to bring about his visit. The program is free and will be held in the library’s large meeting room.
In the case of a single orphanage, it is certain that Wilkens’ decision to stay behind saved lives. His humanitarian work has been recognized with several awards, including the Dignitas Humana Award from St. John’s University School of Theology in Collegeville and a 2005 Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Wilkens’ wife, Teresa, and their three children, Mindy, 10, Lisa, 7, and Shaun, 5, escaped to Burundi, and then to Nairobi where, with the help of the American embassy, they were able to talk to Wilkens by radio. About two weeks into the genocide, fearing he might not live to see them again, Wilkens began recording tapes. "The vast majority of this book is based on those tapes, about eight hours of recordings," he writes.
"While the stories written here happened during the genocide, this is not another book about genocide," he added. "It is about choices people made, actions people took, courage people showed and sacrifices people gave in the face of genocide."
With Teresa, Wilkens has founded an educational nonprofit agency called World Outside My Shoes. His family travels around the world telling stories about Rwanda and inviting people to enter the "world of the other."
Wilkens’ website is www.theworldoutsidemyshoes.org, which includes video interviews including his reading of the first chapter, "Why Stay," of "I’m not leaving."