At Calhoun, genocide survivor urges tolerance, peace


When Emmanuel Habimana was a young boy, people often stood outside his family’s home, singing songs of hatred and catcalling at all hours so that those inside could not sleep, he recently told students at Calhoun High School.

These memories date from 1992, Habimana said, when he was 7 years old. The harassment of his family — day and night — was so regular and frightening that Habimana asked his parents, “Did you choose to be a Tutsi? Why are we being called snakes, cockroaches?”

This was the foundation for Habimana’s harrowing story of his experiences during the Rwandan Genocide, which he recounted for students in Calhoun teacher Dr. David Goldberg’s “Voices of the Past” class last month.

Today Habimana is a filmmaker, lecturer and activist who has devoted much of his time to bearing witness to the atrocities that in 1994 claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, including his parents. He is working on getting “Komora: to heal,” the documentary that he and American friend Natalia Ledford made about the genocide’s continuing effects, entered into various film festivals, and he has embarked on a national speaking tour to implore students to respect all peoples and value human life.

Goldberg met Habimana in Rwanda. The Calhoun teacher visited the tiny central African nation with Carl Wilkens, an author and lecturer who in 1994 was a Seventh-day Adventist missionary living with his family in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. When the killing began, Wilkens’s wife and children evacuated, but he disobeyed orders by his church and U.S. officials to leave the country. The only American who remained in Rwanda throughout the genocide, Wilkens helped protect and care for hundreds of Tutsi children who might have otherwise been slaughtered. Goldberg struck up a friendship with Wilkens at a dinner that the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County hosted in 2012, and later that year he toured Rwanda with the former missionary and a group of other American teachers.

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