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Author Richard Salem Takes The Path Of Service For Rwandan Children
“Witness to Genocide…” combines Salem’s talents to tell the survivors’ stories

Richard A. Salem’s life journey has taken him from journalism to conflict mediation and, most recently, to a fusion of those two disciplines - including his most recent book,   “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda,” just off the press.  

Born in New York City, N.Y., Salem chose journalism as his path in school as an undergraduate at Antioch College in Ohio and graduate at Columbia University.  He worked as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Post, a journalism lecturer at American University, and the publisher of a newsletter about small businesses in Washington, D.C.   

However, Salem soon detoured to a position working for President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” in the Small Business Administration’s Economic Opportunity Loan Program.  

That position exposed Salem to the issue of race relations that eventually led him to a career in conflict management.  Salem has worked as a mediator in the U.S. and abroad since 1968 when he became the Midwest director of the Community Relations Service for the U.S. Department of Justice, an agency that helps communities address racial and ethnic strife.   

Salem mediated the Skokie Nazi conflict in Illinois, the Kent State University dispute over construction on the site of the 1973 student shootings, and numerous police-community, prison, school desegregation and other civil rights conflicts.  In 1973 he received a citation from President Richard Nixon for his mediation during the takeover of Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.             

But Salem’s passion for writing did not dissipate when his journalism career ended.  He co-authored a law text, “A Student’s Guide to Mediation and the Law,” and wrote several articles on mediation which have been published in books and journals.             

Between 1979 and 1995, Salem made 15 extended trips to South Africa where he pioneered training in community conflict management.  He subsequently trained and consulted in six countries in East and West Africa, in Northern Ireland and El Salvador.   

His work in Rwanda led to the publication of “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda.”   

Salem was sent to Rwanda by the U.S. State Department in 1997 as a trainer in community conflict. While visiting a Rwandan trauma treatment center that was in need of additional funding, Salem saw drawings of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, by the children who survived it.    

“When I first looked at the drawings, I saw how dramatically the children remembered the trauma… the visions of life-threatening events that they still see everyday and that keep them awake every night.  It was important that the story be told through their eyes to make people aware of the problems that they face in Rwanda.” 

Salem responded quickly, collecting works from over 50 Rwandan children.  “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda” is a compilation of the artwork of those child survivors.  The foreword  was written by Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Rwandan ambassador to the U.S., Richard Sezibera, M.D., contributed a chapter.  Salem’s wife Greta, a professor of political science at Alverno College in Milwaukee also contributed.             

“It was a labor of love for a lot of people,” said Salem.             

Salem, who lives in Evanston, Ill., is now the Conflict Management Initiative’s president.   He expressed his hope that “Witness to Genocide:  The Children of Rwanda” will move its readers to “decide to contribute toward a peaceful end to violence somewhere in the world.” 

In fact, anyone who buys the book will be doing just that.  Royalties from the book will be used for the treatment of trauma in Rwanda.   The 48 page book is available for $19.95 by calling Friendship Press at 1-800- 889-5753.  Or buy online at www.cmi-salem.org.            

“Trauma is not self-healing…it can cripple many. So resources are needed to treat children and adults in Rwanda,” Salem said.            

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