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Confronting the Past, Taking Action Today

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Confronting the Past, Taking Action Today

Posted by Enough Team on October 26, 2009

Confronting the Past, Taking Action Today

This is the second in a series of posts by 2009 recipients of the Carl Wilkens Fellowship, awarded by Genocide Intervention Network and named for the only American to stay in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Today’s guest contributor, Kiel Majewski, hails from Terre Haute, Indiana.

I share a small office with a Holocaust survivor. Her name is Eva Kor, and she’s the founder of CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. Sitting across from Eva, I’ve come to realize she’s so much more than a label like “Holocaust survivor” can convey. She’s not a saint or superhero, but rather a real person just trying to get along in this world. Getting to know Eva has made genocide a real and personal problem for me.

Yet it took awhile to click. One day in 2007, Eva walked into the office after hearing a radio interview with a Darfuri refugee. Up to that point, the news of the genocide had not broken through the noisiness of my everyday life. Eva told me about the interview, and then she looked at me and said, “I know what it’s like to feel like you have no home in this whole world. In the past 63 years, I have asked myself, ‘Why didn’t people do something to help us in Auschwitz?’”

All of a sudden, the people in Darfur became real to me. I saw the link between their struggle and Eva’s struggle. Now I had a chance to do for the people of Darfur what I couldn’t do for Eva. At CANDLES, we put together a letter-writing campaign designed to change the political situation on the ground in Darfur. When the campaign ended, a question gnawed at me – could I do more? If genocide is a concern to me, how can I be comfortable before it’s no longer a problem in this world? How could I continue to work, support my family, or watch a baseball game in the face of such an urgent problem?

I had begun to ask myself these questions when I received in the mail a brochure advertising the “Carl Wilkens Fellowship” through the Genocide Intervention Network. At the time, I didn’t know who Carl Wilkens was, but I decided to apply.

Through the fellowship, my vision of a genocide-free world has emerged. I’m committed to working on a broader scale to end genocide through political will-building and advocacy, and in my much smaller sphere of influence by working to include and value the lives of my neighbors. Carl Wilkens said genocide will remain a problem until we get rid of the concept of The Other. I see the roots of genocide in myself when I exclude and devalue people because they don’t benefit me or because I perceive them as a threat.

This fellowship has challenged me to do more than I’ve ever done as an activist, but it has also begun to teach me how to make the movement permanent and sustainable in my own life. The GI-Net staff and the other 2009 fellows have offered amazing support, wisdom, and training in striking this most important balance. I am so glad these people are in my life, and I look forward to cultivating lifelong relationships with them, personally and professionally.

The Carl Wilkens Fellowship is a selective, 12-month program that provides a diverse set of emerging citizen leaders with the tools and training to build sustained political will to end genocide. Visit GI-NET’s website for more information and to apply (due November 1).