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'An Ordinary Man' to speak Tuesday




Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the critically acclaimed Hotel Rwanda film and is universally recognized as a symbol of extraordinary bravery in the face of horrific violence, will come to Lehigh Feb. 24 to meet with students and to speak on educating the public about genocide.

His talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24 in Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall is free and open to the public.

In a related event, Rwandan genocide survivor, Norah Bagarinka, will be present for a movie screening and discussion on Sunday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. Bagarinka translated for the Emmy award-winning film, "God Sleeps in Rwanda," which will be shown in Maginnes 101, and she recently directed a program through the International Rescue Committee.

Rusesabagina was manager of the Mille Collines Hotel during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, and is credited with saving nearly 1,300 lives by sheltering refugees from the murderous Hutu militia. In the 100 days of the genocide, historians estimate that between 800,000 to 1 million people were killed, often hacked to death by homicidal mobs wielding machetes.

Rusesabagina was able to shelter members of the Tutsi clan and Hutu moderates by employing a combination of charm, diplomacy and deception to hold off their tormenters, even as the violence raged around him and U.N. peacekeepers abandoned the mission in fear of their own safety.

His heroic efforts are chronicled in his well received autobiography, An Ordinary Man, and for these efforts, he was honored with the 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rusesabagina and his family fled to Belgium in 1996, and he continues to remain active in charitable organizations that aid victims and survivors of the Rwandan massacres. He also oversees the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to aid the relief effort.

Taylor Calderone, a graduate student in English who organized Rusesabagina’s visit to Lehigh, said she hopes his talk with help listeners appreciate the brutal reality of genocide and increase empathy for its victims.

“I think it is crucial that those of us who consider ourselves far away realize that the victims of genocide are not just people in news stories or on the screen, but men, women and children with families and friends,” she said. “Educating people about these atrocities is the first step toward healing the wounds of violence. Paul Rusesabagina is a man who shows us that we do not have to be world leaders to help, but that it takes ordinary men and women to make a difference. “

While at Lehigh, Rusesabagina will sign copies of his book at the Lehigh Bookstore from 3 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24. He will meet informally with a group of students, deliver the lecture at 7 p.m. and attend a V.I.P. reception in his honor. Donations for his foundation will also be collected after his lecture.

His talk is also being funded by Africana Studies, the LU Alumni Association, ArtsLehigh, the Chaplain’s Office, the Dean of the Students Office, the English department, the Global Citizenship program, Global Union, the Globalization and Social Change Initiative, Graduate Student Life, the Graduate Student Senate, the Humanities Center, the Joint Multicultural Program, Lehigh University Business Services, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Student Activities, the sociology and anthropology department, University Productions, the Visiting Lecturers Committee and the Women’s Center.

--Linda Harbrecht


Posted on Friday, February 20, 2009

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