Even in mankind’s darkest moments, heroes emerge to give hope to their community and the world. Paul Rusesabagina is one of those heroes.
Paul Rusesabagina is the Rwandan known for saving 1,268 people during the Rwandan Genocide. As the former manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda he used his influence and connections to shelter 1,268 Tutsis and moderate Hutus from being slaughtered by the Hutu Interhamwe militia. His story was represented in the Academy Award nominated, Hotel Rwanda, starring actor-gone-activist Don Cheadle.
Paul is an ethnic Hutu, but his wife is Tutsi and most importantly, he sees everyone as simply Rwandan. Though deeply disappointed by the actions of his countrymen in 1994, he is committed to rebuilding Rwanda today.
Do Something talked to Paul about his actions during the genocide and his hope for the future of Rwanda.
Protecting over one thousand civilians from bloodthirsty militias was no easy task, but, “None of them was [sic] killed, none of them was taken out to be killed or even to be tortured.”
Paul didn’t think much of his actions, figuring that his most Rwandans were doing the same, protecting their own. “I had in mind that the whole country of Rwanda was just like that,” he told us.
'The whole country smelled like death'
He was rudely awakened when he drove down South to check on his wife’s family towards the end of the genocidal months. By then, July 3rd 1994, “the whole country was smelling like death. On the roads you could see only dead bodies and a lot of flies all over, some dogs barking in the background, eating the dead bodies.”
Paul was surprised that no one else had taken action to stop the senseless murders, “I was disappointed by my own people and also by the international community that did not intervene and stop the genocide that they could have stopped.”
When he arrived at his mother-in-law’s home with his wife and friend, they realized she had been killed along with six of her grandchildren. “All of them, thrown in a pit where we used to throw bananas in order to make banana beers.” This brutality wasn’t unique to Paul’s family – millions of Rwandans saw their friends and family raped, maimed and killed with machetes, and treated like animals.
At the time, the sadness overwhelmed the group, “I sat down with my wife and my friend and all of us, like babies, we cried.”
Then, they went to check on Paul’s sister-in-law, and found her husband had been killed and she was left to try to protect her eight children alone. She had one son, and because the killers were “hunting for boys,” she hid her son so that he wouldn’t be killed. “She put him in a bag, zipping it and pushing it under the bed,” Paul said before adding “A 4-year-old kid, and he was aware of what was going on. This was going on all over.”
So Paul decided to turn overwhelming grief and confusion into action. “I had an idea that why don’t I take these people with me and go to the hotel. And this is what we did.”
Word got around, and other family members and friends flocked to Paul’s hotel for protection. Still, he didn’t think he was doing anything special, saying “This was my duty and my obligation.”
For Paul, the obligation didn’t end with saving 1,268 lives. Afterwards, he started the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to help widows and orphans of the genocide. The foundation helped children get an education and empowered women, but “we noticed that we’re not really solving the problem,” Paul said.
After giving it some thought they decided to start the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Rwanda, in order to “bring other people around the table and give them an opportunity to sit down face to face. Then the perpetrators, with the truth, will stand up and confess. After confessing there will be a kind of forgiveness.”
Paul thinks forgiveness is the first step towards rebuilding, the progress has been slow but steady. “After forgiving, we’ll now reconcile. After reconciling, we will have a better future for the next generations.”
What you can do
Don't let the victims of the genocide in Darfur be as disappointed as Paul Rusesabagina was with the inaction of the international community. See what you can do to save Darfur and don't wait to act.