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May 21, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – The hope that is at the heart of "Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda," was celebrated at a May 21 reception at the United Nations in New York. The reception was hosted by the National Council of Churches, whose Friendship Press published the book.

"Witness to Genocide," which features artwork by child survivors of the 1994 genocide, is as much about hope as it is about horror. By expressing what they saw, said editor Richard A. Salem, these young eyewitnesses to atrocities are taking steps toward healing.

"The children’s drawings may be unsettling, but they are the images emblazoned in the minds of innocent children who witnessed the brutal slayings of their parents, siblings and neighbors," said Mr. Salem, president of Conflict Management Initiatives, a not-for-profit organization that supports the use of mediation and other collaborative processes to manage community conflicts. He and his wife, Dr. Greta Salem, professor emeritus of political science at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis., live in Evanston, Ill.

"There’s a tendency for people to say, ‘Put what happened behind you,’" Salem said. "But trauma stays with you. Part of the treatment is expressing it under the guidance of a trained counselor. When the severely traumatized children were unable to talk about their experiences, they were encouraged to express themselves by writing or drawing."

"The need is tremendous and the resources are few," he said, expressing his hope that the book will help raise support for trauma treatment work in Rwanda and elsewhere.

Royalties from the sale of the book are being donated to trauma treatment organizations in Rwanda. The 48-page, soft cover book includes more than 50 drawings and photos; it retails for $19.95 and is available by phoning 1-800-889-5733 or on the Web at or

The May 21 reception drew nearly 100 well-wishers and dignitaries, including H.E. Dr. Richard Sezibera, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States, who contributed an essay to the book. Also present was Dr. Bob Edgar, National Council of Churches General Secretary. The NCC is the nation’s leading ecumenical organization. Its 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions (denominations) count 50 million adherents.

The genocide left more than 300,000 orphans in a total population of seven million, Dr. Sezibera, a medical doctor, reminded his audience. In all, between 750,000 and one million Rwandans perished in the genocide. "In 1994, we had hundreds of thousands of children who couldn’t sleep or talk. Through projects like this and counseling they are recovering."

Today, all but 5,000 of the orphans have been adopted, Dr. Sezibera said. In addition, children who were forced to kill are being helped to heal and reintegrate into the society. "An investment in our children is an investment in Rwanda’s future," he said.

"Rwanda exemplifies the depth to which humanity can sink and the heights to which humanity can rise," Dr. Sezibera said. "Continue with us on a path that affirms the healing of Rwanda, its people and its children."

U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote the book’s foreword while she was First Lady, could not attend because of pressing business in Washington. She asked Trudy L. Mason, who represents the American Jewish Congress at the United Nations, to read her message to the gathering.

"I am honored to be a participant in this project with Richard and Greta Salem, Dr. Richard Sezibera, the National Council of Churches and the Rwandan children who survived the genocide," Sen. Clinton wrote. Through the drawings of children we learn important lessons about the enormous social cost of violence and the long, painful path toward recovery.

"The drawings are not just depictions of the brutality that defined Rwanda in 1994 but are acts of recovery, healing and hope. We must all work together to ensure that every child has the opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential. I am grateful for your efforts to secure a safer and better future for all the world’s children. I share your dedication to trauma treatment for children in Rwanda."

Sen. Clinton also sent personal greetings to Dr. Edgar, commending the National Council of Churches for its work on behalf of children.

Last fall, both Mr. Salem and then First Lady Clinton were honored by the Research Centre for the Development and Recovery of Human Potential, an Italian cultural organization based in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.

As the moving force behind "Witness to Genocide," Mr. Salem received an award in the "Voices of Childhood" category, while then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was honored in the "Listening" category for her contribution to the book. The center cited her ability as a "woman, a mother and a leader" to "listen and receive the tormented voices of tortured childhood."

Mr. Salem received his own award and, on her behalf, the First Lady’s -- in the form of a gold and pearl pin created by a Sardinian artist – because she was unable to attend the award ceremonies in Italy. At the May 21 reception, Mr. Salem passed on the award to Ms. Mason for Sen. Clinton.

Dr. Edgar challenged everyone present to "tell the story however you can. If we lift up the problems of the world through the eyes of children, perhaps we will get somewhere toward solving them."

This genocide happened "under our watch," he noted. "We come to this moment with a powerful sense of guilt and commitment to bind our hearts together, see this genocide through the eyes of children and be sure it doesn’t happen again."


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