Carl Wilkens, author of the novel, I’m not Leaving, came to speak at Mountain View High School on Friday, November 21st. Frank Navarro, one of the MVHS History teachers, asked Wilkens to come and speak about his experience of staying in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
Wilkens and his wife had lived in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 with their three children and they helped build schools. When fighting broke out in the spring of 1994, Wilkens decided he couldn’t leave, making the challenging decision with his wife to stay while she and the children moved back to the US. As thousands of foreigners left and the United Nations pulled out most of its troops, Wilkens was the only American to remain in Rwanda. While there, Wilkens worked in an orphanage and collected water for the dehydrated children there. For three months, 10,000 to 15,000 people died each day. When the genocide was over, over one million people had died.
For the 7th year now, Wilken and his wife Teresa are traveling around the country and internationally, sharing their story and the incredible story of Rwanda’s rebirth. After the killing ended, the Rwandan government was rebuilt and created a Parliament where at least 30 percent of the government positions are reserved for women. The remaining 70 percent are open to both men and women to run, and today the Rwandan government is made up of 65 percent women.
Wilkens shared his story because he believes that we have to learn from this tragedy so not to repeat it and to acknowledge and appreciate Rwanda’s recovery. Most importantly, Wilkens speaks of this tragic event so that we know that we are not defined by what we lost, but what we do with what we have.
In his closing remarks, Wilkens challenged each student to find someone at school that they do not know and ask them their story. Stories, he said, are the most powerful way to build empathy, because empathy will empower us to change the world.