What if We Don’t Look Away?

We all know what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Some say 500,000 people were massacred in 100 days. Others say the number is closer to 800,000.

But these are numbers. Just statistics from another country. Marks on pieces of paper.


Babies we never saw laugh,

eyes we never looked into,

hands we never touched.

We looked away in 1994. We keep looking away from all the Rwandas in the world today.

We’re afraid of what we’ll see if we look. Eyes and smiles and hands and hearts and hopes like ours. Terror just like ours would be if we were faced with the same circumstances. Broken hearts and lives – just like ours would be if we were faced with the same circumstances.

We’re afraid if we really look – really recognise these people and see ourselves in their frightened eyes – we won’t be able to keep telling ourselves that the hole in the boat doesn’t matter.

That the water rising around our ankles is nothing.

That we’re not going down with the ship.

That tomorrow it might be our turn to have our suffering be a matter of indifference to people who might help us.

I am reading Shake Hands With the Devil – Roméo Dallaire’s book about the Rwandan massacre. This is what he says in the Preface –

The following is my story of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. It’s a story of betrayal, failure, naiveté, indifference, hatred, genocide, war, inhumanity and evil…In just one hundred days over 800,000 innocent Rwandan men, women and children were brutally murdered while the developed world, impassive and apparently unperturbed, sat back and watched the unfolding apocalypse or simply changed channels…(1)

I wonder what might happen in the world if we didn’t change channels or looking away?


(1) Shake Hands With the Devil, Roméo Dallaire, Preface, xvii


Photograph – http://fp.seattleschools.org/SmartTools/genocide/rwanda/pictures.htm


    1. Unfortunately that’s true – early in the book Roméo Dallaire speaks about some ‘bureaucrats’ who came to do an assessment – maybe UN – maybe not it wasn’t clear to me – anyway, their report stated that there was nothing in Rwanda but human beings. We have to hold our governments to a higher standard – they might not fear terrified African children but they fear us – we can, literally, unseat them. It’s time we started to remind them of that fact.

  1. Thank you for this post. We must not look away, just because we might not be in the proximity of suffering. I feel we still have a responsibility to those who suffer. I’ll be adding the book to my reading list. I am reading something similar right now. Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger. It too, encourages us to not turn away, or ‘change the channel’ on those in need.

    1. It’s hard to look at suffering but it is the only way we can actually begin to act. Thanks, Lisa.

  2. Dear CR,
    Most of us, and I include myself in this are so wrapped up in their little day to day narrow life, they don’t want to see the misery and pain all around them. No need to go to Rwanda, I just need to take a walk around my city late at night to see the homeless, people we leave by the way-side…
    Your blog, and organisations such as Amnesty International are healthy reminder that we need to take our responsibility towards others seriously, to hold our politicians accountable, and not to look away. Thanks

    1. Such an honest thing to say – I think we’re all the same, including me. Thanks so much for the insightful comment.

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