As a humanitarian aid worker, Carl Wilkens moved his young family to Rwanda in the spring of 1990. When the genocide was launched in April 1994, Carl refused to leave, even when urged to do so by close friends, his church and the United States government. Thousands of expatriates evacuated and the United Nations pulled out most of its troops. Carl was the only American to remain in the country. Venturing out each day into streets crackling with mortars and gunfire, he worked his way through roadblocks of angry, bloodstained soldiers and civilians armed with machetes and assault rifles in order to bring food, water and medicine to groups of orphans trapped around the city. Working with Rwandan colleagues, they helped saved the lives of hundreds.
"I can still hear very clearly the sound of hoes thwacking into the earth… the men swinging them were not gardening, they were digging up mass graves…
Take a moment to try and put yourself in the shoes of the family members and friends who had loved ones taken from them. Surviving is more than just staying alive; surviving is learning how to live again.
Carl returned to the United States in 1996. After being featured in the 2004 PBS Frontline documentary, "Ghosts of Rwanda", about the Rwanda genocide, he began to receive letters, phone calls and offers from teachers around the country to come and share his experiences with students.
In January 2008, with no end in sight to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan, Carl decided to quit his job and dedicate himself full time to accepting these invitations. He and his wife Teresa have since formed an educational nonprofit, World Outside My Shoes, to facilitate this important work.
In 2011 Wilkens released his first book titled I’m Not Leaving. It is based on tapes he made to his wife and children during the genocide. A 40-minute documentary also titled I’m Not Leaving has also been produced. (See the film trailer here.)
Regarding the book and documentary, Carl said, "While these stories happened during the genocide, the book and documentary are not really about genocide. They are more about the choices people made, actions people took, courage people showed, and sacrifices people gave in the face of genocide."
For over a decade, Carl and Teresa have been speaking in schools on nearly every continent about their experiences in Rwanda and sharing the power of stories and service to build bridges to peace with “The Other.”