Hotel Rwanda: A Lesson Yet to Be Learned
In 1994, Paul Rusesabagina was a young man who was going places. A Rwandan hotel manager employed by Sabena to run one of the most important properties in Kigali, Paul knew all the movers and shakers and how to keep them happy.
Paul worked at the Hotel des Mille Collines and then the Diplomat Hotel. His career was moving. In the Spring of 1994, he and his wife along with his youngest son had just returned to Rwanda from a business trip to Europe. The future was very bright.
But, on April 6, 1994 something happened in that small African country that changed everything. A plane carrying the President of Rwanda and the President of Burundi was shot down and both men were killed. This sparked the violence that grew into the Rwandan Genocide during which more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed.
After the plane was shot down, Paul and his family and some neighbors were taken at gunpoint from their home to the Diplomat Hotel by soldiers who ordered him to kill his family and neighbors and demanded money from them. Paul used his charm and sales skills to save his family and the neighbors that traveled with him. He traded money for lives and food for favors. Eventually 1,268 people ended up seeking shelter at the hotel, the only safe haven in a sea of Genocidal slaughter.
During the Genocide in 1994, the Hotel, under Paul’s leadership, was the only public place where people were safe. Rwandans were killed and beaten in stadiums, schools, and churches, but not at Paul’s hotel. No one under Paul’s shelter was harmed or killed at the Hotel des Mille Collines. Soldiers came to threaten him, slaughters happened outside the gates, but the people at the Hotel were safe.
The story of Paul’s life during the Genocide has been told in the movie Hotel Rwanda and his autobiography An Ordinary Man. Rusesabagina’s popular autobiography was published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. in April 2006. The movie Hotel Rwanda shows how Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, saved the lives of more than 1,200 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rusesabagina also served as special consultant to United Artists and Lion’s Gate Films’ production of Hotel Rwanda, which also starred Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix and Nick Nolte.
After the release of the movie and his book, Rusesabagina received many awards and honors, including the Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity, the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Rescuer of Humanity Award and the The Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize.
Paul Rusesabagina wanted to do more for the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region of Africa. He used the recognition he gained from the movie and the book and the awards to help all the people of Rwanda. He formed the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to provide voice to victims of genocide and support peace efforts in Rwanda and throughout the world. What started as a personal mission to teach the lessons of Rwanda has become an international movement to fight genocide throughout the world.
He founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation and continues to be the President of the foundation, a 501c3 public not for profit charity, based in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. By working directly with young people in educational settings and at the Foundation offices, Paul and his team are educating a new generation of anti-genocide activists on how they can make an impact in preventing violence across the globe.
The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation raises public awareness about the need for an internationally administered Truth and Reconciliation process for Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The Foundation also works on issues related to the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 7 million have died. The Foundation is campaigning for an end to Rwandan military intervention in the Congo and against the deadly exploitation of conflict minerals in the region.
To further his foundation’s mission, Rusesabagina tours the world speaking about social justice, human rights activism and the lessons learned from the Rwandan genocide, one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century. He has spoken to large organizations of journalists, educators, students, policymakers, business leaders and human rights advocates globally. Rusesabagina describes his experiences during the horrific genocide, the terror and the helplessness of the people he sheltered; and the ways in which governments, non-governmental organizations and ordinary people can work together to prevent genocide throughout the world.
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