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Paul Rusesabagina of 'Hotel Rwanda' Fame to Speak at UW-Eau Claire's Forum

RELEASED: Oct. 24, 2005

Paul RusesabaginaEAU CLAIRE — Paul Rusesabagina, the subject of the Oscar-nominated 2004 film "Hotel Rwanda," will speak at The Forum at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Wednesday, Nov. 2. The presentation, titled "Hotel Rwanda: A Lesson Yet to Be Learned," will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Zorn Arena.

"There were few heroes during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994," wrote BBC Radio Four's Steve Bradshaw. "But you do hear about a few, and Paul Rusesabagina is one of them."

For two months in the spring and early summer of 1994, the Republic of Rwanda, an east-central African nation of more than seven and a half million people, was decimated while the world watched. Between 800,000 and a million people were systematically hacked to death by machetes over the hundred days of the genocide, by the policy of the Hutu government.

Paul Rusesabagina was a hotel manager who sheltered 1,200 refugees from certain death. While militants threatened and surrounded the well-groomed grounds of his Kigali hotel, the crafty and highly principled businessman spent hours pleading with influential leaders on the phone, his international connections his only defense against attack. He bartered luxury items for the lives of strangers seeking refuge. Miraculously, no one taken into his hotel was killed.

In his definitive book on the Rwandan genocide, "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" (1998), Philip Gourevitch wrote this of Paul Rusesabagina:

"Paul is a mild-mannered man, sturdily built and rather ordinary looking — a bourgeois hotel manager, after all — and that is how he seemed to regard himself as well, as an ordinary person who did nothing extraordinary in refusing to cave in to the insanity that swirled around him. 'People became fools. I don't know why,' he said to me. 'I kept telling them, I don't agree with what you're doing, just as openly as I'm telling you now. I'm a man who's used to saying no when I have to. That's all I did — what I felt like doing. Because I never agree with killers. I didn't agree with them. I refused, and I told them so.' Many Rwandans didn't agree with the genocide, of course, but many overcame their disagreements and killed, while many more simply saved their own skins. Paul sought to save everybody he could, and if that meant negotiating with everybody who wanted to kill them — so be it."

Rusesabagina's story is told in "Hotel Rwanda," a film by Terry George that received Oscar nominations last year for Best Picture, Best Actor (Don Cheadle) and Best Original Screenplay.

"I've become a humanitarian and I never thought I would become one," says Rusesabagina. "And, as a humanitarian, I wanted to take this message on a wider scale, to raise awareness of what happened in my country so that the international community can help others who suffer now."

In 2005 he established the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to help carry out financial assistance to children and women affected by the genocides in Rwanda and Sub Saharan African nations such as the Sudan. Rusesabagina's personal mission to educate people on the lessons of Rwanda has transformed into an international crusade to end genocide in all nations.

The lecture will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a reception. The program will be interpreted for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Main floor seating is sold out, but bleacher and gallery seats are still available. Tickets are $7 for the public, $5 for those 62 and older and UW System or Chippewa Valley Technical College faculty and staff, and $3 for those 17 and younger and UW System or CVTC students. Tickets are available at the Service Center counter in the east lobby of Davies Center and will also be sold at the door. The Service Center is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Patrons may also charge their tickets to MasterCard or Visa when they order by phone. Call (715) 836-3727 — or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free (800) 949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.

Rusesabagina's visit is the catalyst for a day of reflection and discussion on Wednesday, Nov. 2. From 1 to 4:30 p.m. the Student Life and Diversity Commission of the Student Senate will host a conference in Davies Theatre titled "Reflection of Humanity." Panels and presentations by UW-Eau Claire faculty/staff and students will focus on topics including the role of the United Nations in international crises, the role of the American media, and the roots of genocide. The Peer Diversity Educators also will present a workshop titled "Visit to Albatross," an exercise that illuminates how ethnocentric biases play out in our daily lives and our interactions with others. Admission to the conference is free at the door, and participants may come and go as they wish.

Following the conference, the UW-Eau Claire International Film Society will present a special pre-Forum screening of "Hotel Rwanda" at 5 p.m. in the Council Fire Room of Davies Center. Tickets are $2 for UW-Eau Claire faculty/staff and the general public and $1 for UW-Eau Claire students at the Service Center and the door. "Hotel Rwanda" also will screen on the International Film Series Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 3-6, at 6 and 8:30 p.m. in Davies Theatre.

Rusesabagina's appearance is supported by a grant from the University of Wisconsin System Institute on Race and Ethnicity. Wisconsin Public Radio and Community Television have contributed generous promotional support to The Forum. Best Western Trail Lodge Hotel & Suites Eau Claire (715-838-9989) at 3340 Mondovi Road is the exclusive accommodations partner for The Forum.

Funded by the students of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, The Forum is administered by the Activities and Programs office.

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JS/NW

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