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"Witness To Genocide..." Provides Healing and Hope For Rwanda
Book Released on May 23 by Friendship Press 

            Standing over a young boy, a man grasps a nail-spiked wooden club, ready to strike a deadly blow to his skull. “I promise never to be Tutsi again!,” cries the boy, apparently in hopes that his life will be spared. 

This devastatingly vivid image originated in the memories of a child, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in which nearly one million Rwandans were killed. Similar images of the brutality they witnessed pervade the thoughts of a multitude of other Rwandan children.  

“Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda” is a collection of artwork by child survivors of the 1994 genocide. 

“Their drawings may be unsettling, but they are the images emblazoned on the minds of innocent children who witnessed the brutal slayings of their parents, siblings, and neighbors,” writes Richard A. Salem, editor of the book and president of Conflict Management Initiatives, a not-for-profit organization that supports the use of mediation and other collaborative processes to manage community conflicts. 

From drawings of men with clubs to chaotic images of  families being murdered, the book “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda” serves a purpose: trauma relief.  As First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton notes in the book’s foreword, the children’s drawings serve as a vehicle to end their distress.    

“I realized that these drawings are not just depictions of brutal violence but are acts of recovery, healing, and hope,”  she writes.  “The very acts of talking, writing, and drawing are helping these children confront their past experiences and express their feelings about them.” 

Rwandan Ambassador to the United States Dr. Richard Sezibera also suggests that “Witness to Genocide…” is a book of healing…both for the children of Rwanda and the memories of the dead. 

In the book’s final chapter Sezibera says the stories of the Rwandan genocide “must be told again and again and again, not out of a morbid desire for gruesome tales but out of concern that the innocent dead should continuously sear the memories of the living…not only does collective memory contribute to the healing that comes with shared pain, but it also gives hope that the world will remember and avoid the pitfalls of yesteryear.” 

Richard Salem suggests that not only are the drawings a vehicle for trauma relief, but they are a warning of how corruptive power can be.  “For the children, these are the images that wake them in the middle of the night….  For the rest of us, these drawings are a reminder of what inevitably happens when the international community permits power -crazed leaders to foment genocidal violence,” he writes.  “It is important that adults everywhere pay attention to the children’s stories, as horrifying as they may be.” 

The book notes the transformation of Rwanda from a country where discussing trauma from genocide was once unspeakable to a place where thousands of children  now learn how to cope with their grief.  

As the book progresses, so does the artwork.  The once dismal and forlorn drawings develop into pictures of Hutus and Tutsi children holding hands and working together, with captions like this: “I love peace all over Rwanda.”   

A percentage of royalties from the book will be donated to trauma treatment organizations in Rwanda.  Contributors to the book include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Church World Service, Friendship Press, Conflict Management Initiatives, and members of the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, who contributed through their 1999 St. Patrick’s Day Walk/Run for Charity.  The 48-page “Witness to Genocide:  The Children of Rwanda” is available for $19.95 by calling Friendship Press at 1-800-889-5733.  Or buy online at www.cmi-salem.org.  

Each Rwandan child has a tale, and each tale has some sorrow.  “Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda” takes that sorrow and provides hope for the future. As Hillary Rodham Clinton writes “…no nation can move ahead when its children are left behind.” 

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