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Culture Shock: Humanitarian Hero

Inspiration for 'Hotel Rwanda' comes to the Valley

 by Stephanie Berger
 published on Thursday, December 1, 2005

<em>Photo courtesy of KRT Wire</em>/issues/arts/695155
Photo courtesy of KRT Wire
 

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A well-known hero who saved thousands of lives is coming to Phoenix on Dec. 8.

Paul Rusesabagina, the subject of the movie "Hotel Rwanda," will speak at the Arizona Biltmore as a guest of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix.

While many movies are loosely based on a true story, "Hotel Rwanda" portrays the horror of the Rwandan genocide with striking accuracy.

Tensions between Rwanda's ethnic groups, Hutus and Tutsis, existed for years. And when Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed in April 1994, a campaign of violence against Tutsis spread across the country. During the following three months, an estimated 800,000 people were killed.

Rusesabagina, the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, provided shelter for more than 1,200 people in his hotel during the genocide.

Toni Smeltzer, head of the Jewish Federation's community-wide event, says that Rusesabagina has a valuable message.

"The reason that we brought him to Arizona is because of the sensitivities and the history of the holocaust," he says. "People say, 'never again,' and at this point, 'never again' has happened again within Rwanda, and now in the Darfur region of Sudan."

The proceeds from Rusesabagina's speech will go to the Darfur Relief Fund, which provides assistance to the region of Sudan where the government and Janjaweed militias are killing up to 5,000 people, mostly civilians, each month.

"We really want to have community awareness as to what's happening," she says. "When people leave the event we want them to walk out of there wanting to contact their congressmen, senators and the president and say, 'This is not acceptable, we can't stand by while this genocide is taking place.'"



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