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Voices of Rwanda

A couple weeks ago, while the coming election dominated the news, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City was serving up cassava and African beats to everyone from MTV journalist Gideon Yaho to Rwandan Ambassador to the United Nations, His Excellency Dr. Joseph Nsengimana and genocide survivor Eugenie Mukeshimana. It was the first fundraiser for Voices of Rwanda , the brainchild of Yale alum Taylor Krauss '02 (pictured below speaking with Nsengimana), along with a team including fellow Yaliens Moriah Brier '04, and Jill Cohen '03. VOR is, Taylor says, the first major effort to record and preserve not only legal testimonies relating to the '94 genocide, but all of the stories Rwandans wish to tell.

The idea to record these stories, Taylor told me, came to him in Rwanda in 2004, where he was working on a documentary and finding stories lurking everywhere, behind the most mundane social customs. "If you leave the drink at your table and go to dance, when you come back you don’t have that drink. The implication was that people would be poisoned when they would go out, and sometimes they would be at clubs. Those are snippets of history that would come out when I would sit down with a friend."


But the project extends beyond the events of '94 as well. "These are stories that reach back, individuals talk about 1959." And they reach forward, too: Voices of Rwanda's initial goal is to become entirely Rwandan-run, and then to film for the next twenty years. Without an explicit goal of justice or apology, it has the freedom of pursuing the stories themselves; the value is not in a further goal, but in the lives of the individual Rwandans.

While Darfur has become the cause du jour for many a young activist, it is the exception that proves the rule in the absence of African stories in the American media. The day of the Voices of Rwanda fundraiser, the story of a congressman’s inappropriate instant messages was still our most important narrative. What would be a better standard for determining the stories that our media tell?

As a naïve intern at The Nation, I became troubled by this question, as our coverage of Lamont/Lieberman and Lebanon was eclipsing stories such as the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has already claimed at least five times the number of lives as the Rwandan genocide. Reflecting on the oft-cited argument that coverage of Israeli and Palestinian sides of their conflict should be proportional to the number of lives lost, I proposed expanding this standard to news in general: let the extent of coverage of news stories be based on the number of lives at stake. I made this proposal to managing editor Karen Rothmyer, after she echoed some of my own thoughts on the Congo. She shook her head sadly. There were different standards that could be employed by news media--“But lives? Never.”

At least by giving Rwandan lives a permanent record, Voices of Rwanda may represent a small push in that direction. If anyone you know might be interested in donating to their project, pass the link along:

Posted by Stan Alcorn on November 10, 2006 11:09 PM | Permalink

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