Friday, October 28, 2011

The Unsung Hiders

Anne Frank was famous for hiding through the Holocaust.  Countless Jews were saved by kind friends and strangers who risked everything to hide them.

During the Rwandan Genocide, Immaculee Ilibagiza hid in a bathroom for 3 months with seven other Tutsi women.  Eugenie Mukeshimana survived by hiding with many strangers who took her in.  Numerous refugees found shelter in mosques with Muslims who fed and protected them. 

To the many persons who risked their lives to hide those in danger, thank you.

CBS story on Pastor Simeon Nzabahimana who hid Ilibagiza

CNN story on Immaculee Ilibagiza

Muslims who sheltered refugees

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paul Rusesabagina, Hotel Manager

Paul Rusesabagina was the general manager of the luxury hotel Mille Collines in Kigali at the inception of the Rwandan Genocide.  His story, about how he turned the hotel into a refugee camp saving over 1,200 lives, has been dramatized in the Hollywood film, Hotel Rwanda.  He received the Wallenberg Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The story goes deeper though.  Rusesabagina has accused current Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, then leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), of participating in the genocide as well, killing Hutus ("Double Genocide Theory").  Not only that, he is trying to tell people the conflict is still going on, with Rwanda (under Kagame) exploiting "conflict minerals" in eastern D.R. Congo and fueling a war that is still costing millions of lives. 

“What you may not know,” he says in a video on his foundation’s website, “is that the ethnic conflict which led to this genocide has still not been resolved. The ethnic conflict has spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 5 million people have died. The exploitation of the Congo’s ‘conflict minerals’ by Rwanda is fueling this horrible war. Poverty, inequality, discrimination and political repression are on the rise in Rwanda. We have a moral responsibility to change this.”  (Source)

In other words, the genocide never truly ended.  It took a break and got turned into a "war" which people can go on ignoring, costing 5 million additional lives.  Rusesabagina's continuing heroism is speaking this truth to expose the sham despite the risk to his life.


National Geographic article

CNN article

Washington Post article, "Smearing a Hero" by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mbaye Diagne, UN Observer

Mbaye Diagne was a Senegalese UN military observer under Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire's command.  Upon hearing of the Prime Minister's assassination on April 7th, 1994, he went to the PM's house and found her four children still alive.  Despite UN regulations against interference, he saved the four children and dozens (perhaps hundreds) others by ferrying them hidden in his vehicle to relative safety and using favors and UN credentials to pass through checkpoints during the next 2 months.  He was killed by shrapnel from mortar fire at a checkpoint on May 31st, 1994.
But when the genocide started, I saw him still rushing around but I didn't know what he was doing. I subsequently learned that he'd rescued the family of the prime minister, the children, and he'd hidden them in his house. I understand that he saved quite a lot of other people as well by driving through the front line, hiding people in his car, driving back through the front line and so on. … You could see he was never hanging around the car park like some of the some of the UN officers. He was always going out and doing things.  (Source.)


PBS:  Ghosts of Rwanda, Memories of Capt. Mbaye Diagne

Carl Wilkens, Adventist Relief Worker

Carl Wilkens was in Rwanda with his family (wife and three children) when the genocide started.  When the foreigners evacuated, Wilkens was the only American who chose to stay behind after evacuating his family.  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 400 persons at 2 orphanages and a church.   Wilkens explains:

"You know, right there in front of me was our house girl who's a Tutsi. Worked for us for several years. I knew as soon as we left she would be slaughtered. There was a young man who was our night watchman. A Tutsi. He'd be slaughtered. And there was no way convoys were letting anyone take Rwandans with them. And at the time my family was evacuating, we lived on a dirt road, and I watched my family drive away down the road. I walked back up to the gate. Closed it and locked it, but as I went back up there and knelt down on the floor with our house-girl and night watchman, and we prayed for the safety of my family, it was a pretty empty feeling."  (Source.)


PBS:  Interview with Carl Wilkens for "Ghosts of Rwanda"

American Radio Works

Carl Wilkens Official Site

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire and company, UN peacekeepers

Canadian Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire was Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1994.  When the genocide commenced, he was ordered to evacuate with the rest of the Peacekeeping force.  He convinced the UN command to let him stay.  Using the UN compound as a refuge, he and his men saved over 30,000 lives by protecting refugees in UN-controlled areas.  Without food or infrastructure to house as many as 20,000 people at once, the conditions at the compound were deplorable.  Dallaire and his men subsisted themselves on expired canned food.  Yet he was unable to convince anyone to send significant supplies or food, let alone soldiers to stop the killing.  And try he did.  He had a BBC reporter broadcasting live killings, yet the governments of the world chose to ignore the lives lost.

To this day, Lt. Gen. Dallaire suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) with the helpless memories of death and torture.  Unlike all the foreign nationals who were evacuated within days of the genocide, he and many others chose to stay and save lives, even if they were not able to stop the killing. 

If you have never read the book, Shake Hands with the Devil, or seen the HBO documentary (free on Google video) and movie by the same name, I would highly recommend any or all of them.

Amnesty Intl article

The Rwandan Genocide (4/94 - 7/94)

This week we'll look at people who tried to save lives during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which at least 800,000 lives were massacred in about three months.  They probably don't think of themselves as heroes; people who see such atrocities rarely do.  They are often haunted afterwards by all the lives they didn't save.  But for those whose lives are owed to them, they are heroes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Vilmos Farkas, Ransom Deliverer

In 1998, a Serbian elderly couple was kidnapped, tortured, and held for ransom by Croatian nationalists.  The couple's children could not enter Bosnia Herzegovina, so they asked a distant Hungarian friend, Vilmos Farkas, to help.  Farkas drove through Hungary, then walked over 100 kms through Bosnia Herzegovina while hiding from Croatians and bandits.  He delivered the ransom and accompanied the couple back to safety, at tremendous risk to himself.  Farkos never got public recognition or compensation.

Here is the original story.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Carnegie Medal Recipients

Since 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism.  To date, 9,477 civilians who have taken extraordinary risk to save family members, neighbors, friends, and strangers have been awarded the medal in the last 107 years.

These are ordinary citizens or off-duty officers who save people from burning cars, burning buildings, drowning, assaults, school shootings, animal attacks, and other misfortunes.  Many of the rescuers died or suffered significant injuries to help their fellow human beings.  Here are some examples.
Gregory Bryant attempted to rescue Sandra J. Bundy from burning, Chimacum, Washington, May 21, 2008. Bundy, 74, was inside her two-story house after fire broke out on the first floor, in the living room. Flames spread almost to engulf the structure. Traveling nearby, Bryant, 20, delivery driver, saw smoke and, reporting the fire, responded to the scene. He ran to the front door of the house, where he saw Bundy lying on the floor just inside. Bryant crouched down and entered the house, despite flames that were consuming it and blistering heat. He grasped Bundy by the forearms and dragged her out of the house and away from it. Others arrived and helped to move her farther from the house, the walls and roof of which were collapsing. Badly burned, Bundy died at the scene. Bryant was hospitalized a week for treatment of burns, up to third-degree, to his hands, wrists, forearms, face, and knee. Requiring skin grafting, he missed several months’ work.  (Source.)
Diane D. Cox rescued Sandra Ruiz from assault, Newbury Park, California, August 12, 2007. At night, Ruiz, 33, was attacked by a man armed with a meat cleaver in the courtyard of her apartment complex. Cox, 52, administrative assistant, who also lived in the complex, was alerted to the attack. She ran to the scene, where she saw the assailant atop Ruiz, striking her. Shouting at him to stop, Cox jumped on the assailant, knocking him off Ruiz and to the ground. Although the assailant struck Cox on the face with the cleaver, inflicting a significant injury, she got on top of him and held down his weapon hand. Another resident of the complex arrived, disarmed the assailant, and helped Cox detain him for police, who responded shortly and arrested him.  Ruiz required extensive hospitalization for treatment of severe injuries. Cox was also taken to the hospital, for treatment of blunt trauma to the side of her face, including a fracture and a laceration that required suturing.  (Source.)
Donald C. Wilkinson, Jr., died after helping to save a boy from drowning, Aransas Pass, Texas, February 15, 2006. A 5-year-old boy fell from the end of a wooden pier that extended 60 feet into Conn Brown Harbor off the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing nearby from the pier, Wilkinson, 67, retired power plant employee, climbed over the pier railing and dropped six feet into the 60-degree water, which was about eight feet deep. He grasped the boy, then held to one of the pier’s supports while the boy clung to him. A man in a boat responded shortly and took the boy aboard. Unable to take Wilkinson aboard, the man let the boat drift toward shore with Wilkinson holding to it. When they reached shallow water, the boy waded ashore and the boater assisted Wilkinson to a seated position. Wilkinson lost consciousness. He was removed from the water by paramedics, then was hospitalized. He died early the next day of complications of near drowning. (Source.)
John A. Klang died after saving an indeterminate number of persons from assault, Cazenovia, Wisconsin, September 29, 2006. A 15-year-old boy entered the school he attended, armed with a loaded shotgun and handgun. A school employee removed the shotgun from him, after which the boy produced the handgun and pointed it at two teachers, both of whom sought safety. Meanwhile, Klang, 49, the school’s principal and district administrator, responded and confronted the boy in a hallway. Klang and the boy then struggled, during which time the boy fired the gun repeatedly, striking Klang. Although he was mortally wounded, Klang
disarmed the assailant, casting the gun through the hall, and detained him. A teacher and two students left a nearby classroom and secured the assailant until police arrived shortly and arrested him. Klang died in the hospital several hours later of his gunshot wounds.  (Source.)
If you ever get jaded and think that there are no heroes anymore, take some time to read these stories.  Heroes walk among us.  Still.

The stories from Sept 1998 to the present are available online here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jesús Garcia, Railroad Engineer

On November 7, 1907, while stopped in the village of Nacozari, Mexico, a train boxcar filled with dynamite caught on fire.   Jesús Garcia, the railroad engineer, immediately drove the train at full speed for six kilometers away from Nacozari until the dynamite exploded.  The explosion killed Garcia and 11 other train crew and bystanders, but missed the town.

Today, November 7th is a national holiday in Mexico honoring Garcia's bravery.  Nacozari was renamed Nacozari de Garcia.

Famous Mexicans:  Jesus Garcia


Monday, October 10, 2011

Crew of the Shackleton Expedition

In August of 1914, Ernest Shackleton led a crew of 55 other crazy-but-not-stupid people (they were adventurers, seamen, artists, geologists, meteorologists, physicists, biologists, surgeons) to be the first to cross the continent of Antarctica--on two ships called the Endurance (28 men) and the Aurora (28 men).  In December, they leave the South Georgia whaling station to enter Antarctic waters.  Only one month later, Endurance froze in the water, leaving its crew stranded in cold beyond imagination.  They would not touch land again for 497 days.  It would be 22 months before they were rescued.  Miraculously, all 28 men survived almost two years in the Antarctic without food or adequate clothing.

The Aurora crew was not so lucky.  Their job was to leave depots of food and supplies on the other side of the continent for the transcontinental trekkers.  They dropped off a shore party of 10 men (mostly scientists) who carted heavy cargo in -92ºF weather.  Most of the dogs had long died in the cold.  To add insult to injury, the Aurora broke free of its mooring and left its shore party stranded with only the supplies in their huts. Believing the other team's lives were in their hands, they continued on their mission, laying caches of whatever food and supplies they could cobble together at designated points--while subsisting on 8 lumps of sugar and half a biscuit a day themselves.  While fighting scurvy.  They would not be rescued until January 1917, 4 months and 10 days after the rescue of the Endurance crew.  Three men out of the 10 died during the two years they spent on Antarctica.

The attention is usually on the crew of the Endurance.  With no lives were lost, it somehow makes for a happier story.  The shore party of the Aurora is often forgotten, but in my eyes, they were more heroic.  They voluntarily starved and died to do their jobs against all odds and lay food depots for the Endurance crew that would never come.

No other entries will be posted this week, because these 38 extraordinary men should keep your jaw dropped for a while.

Here they are.  More details on the 28 of the Endurance crew are here.

NOVA:  Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance


American Museum of Natural History on the Endurance

Friday, October 7, 2011

Daniel Kish, Perceptual Mobility Specialist

Daniel Kish is the president of World Access for the Blind, a non-profit organization which teaches blind persons to use echolocation to increase their mobility. Totally blind, he bikes in traffic, hikes, and gets around without conventional visual aids--using only a slight clicking of his tongue to echolocate his surroundings.   Like a bat.  And he is teaching others to do it too.

Youtube video on Daniel Kish's use of echolocation

World Access for the Blind Bio

BBC Interview with Daniel Kish

Daredevil Interview with Daniel Kish

Wikipedia:  Human echolocation

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oscar Pistorius, Sprinter

A double amputee who runs with prothetic legs, Oscar Pistorius is a sprinter and world record holder in the Paralympic 100, 200, and 400 meter events.   As a former Olympic contender, his biggest hurdles were legal:  to convince the Court of Arbitration for Sports to reverse a decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that no athlete could compete with the aid of a "technical device."  He won the appeal.  Though he eventually fell 0.70 seconds short of qualifying for the South African Olympic team, he set a new standard that opened doors for aspiring disabled athletes everywhere:  to be judged by his athletic ability and not his disability.

"My focus throughout this appeal has been to ensure that disabled athletes be given the chance to compete and compete fairly with able-bodied athletes. I look forward to continuing my quest to qualify for the Olympics." (Source)

Official website


Glenn Cunningham, Track Athlete

Glenn Cunningham, Ph.D. (1909 - 1988) was a track athlete who won a silver Olympic medal and held the world record for the indoor mile at 4:04.5 from 1938 to 1954.   What was lesser known is that because his legs were badly burned in a fire when he was 7 and he suffered from chronic infection from dental abcesses from a ball accident when he was 20, every step he walked or ran, even in races, was very painful.

My Mother and Father had always brought us up to never complain. I was asked to do a lot of speeches through the years, and I often talked about overcoming challenges, but I just always figured that I needed to do my best and never quit. Complaining about something I had no control over would have diminished what I was trying to do. I just wanted to let my running speak for itself. (Source)

Glenn Cunningham in interview

Glenn Cunningham:  US Track & Field Hall of Fame

Glenn Cunningham:  University of Kansas History

Wikipedia:  Glenn Cunningham

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Esraf Armagen, Painter

Esraf Armagen was born blind, but has been painting since he was a child.  Born into a poor family, he has no formal education and is completely self-taught.  His paintings are good, but will probably never hang in the Met.  That's not the point, is it?  He pursues what he loves, what makes his soul sing.  And he doesn't take "I can't see" as an acceptable obstacle to his passion.

News profile on youtube:  Artist with no eyes

Volvo commercial/PR campaign on youtube:  Armagen paints the new Volvo S60

Official website (where you can see images of his paintings)

Wikipedia:  Esraf Armagen

Monday, October 3, 2011

Clay Dyer, Fisherman

We all know about Helen Keller and FDR and John Nash.  Here is a list of some famous persons with disabilities.

But what about less famous, yet equally astounding persons who fight each day to pursue their passions despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles?  This week, we'll look at 5 disabled persons who do ordinary things--in extraordinary ways. 

Clay Dyer, Fisherman Extraordinaire

Clay Dyer is a competitive fisherman who was born with no legs, no left arm, and a partial right arm.  He is also a motivational speaker.

News profile on youtube

Official Clay Dyer Website

Wikipedia:  Clay Dyer