American Aid This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     If you have seen the film “Hotel Rwanda,” you will understand when I say I felt bad to be an American. I have seen it three times and am still struggling to make sense of the indifference and ignorance regarding this genocide that took place in my lifetime. I never truly understood the gravity of the situation in Rwanda, and embarrassingly, I will admit that until a year ago, I was unaware that any genocide had even occurred. I feel like I have been in the dark about so much of our world’s recent history.

But I am only mildly embarrassed. It’s is not my fault that I was so uninformed. Even if I had been old enough to understand the events in Rwanda in the spring of 1994, they are not the facts to make the nightly news. I know this because when I turn on the news, I see footage of the relief effort in Southeast Asia, of President Bush delivering his State of the Union address. The ethnic cleansing currently happening in Darfur is disturbingly similar to the Rwandan genocide, and yet many Americans known nothing about it because the conflict in Sudan has been brushed over by mainstream media. How can our country, which has now made a cliché of the phrase “Never again,” stand by and watch these atrocities take place?

Americans continue to rush aid to Southeast Asia for tsunami relief, and our country has raised more than $400 million in private donations. This is a remarkable achievement and something that we, as a country, should be proud of. Americans have proved themselves extremely empathetic in the wake of this disaster, but I ask myself, Why is this empathy so mutually exclusive? What makes human disasters different from natural ones? How can we possibly say that Africans are less deserving of our charity?

In “Hotel Rwanda,” director Terry George seems to express this opinion through Col. Oliver, a UN peacekeeper. Speaking to Don Cheadle’s character, Paul Rusesabagina, he explains why the West is not intervening. “We think you’re dirt,” he says. “Less than dirt, you’re worthless. You’re not even a n----r - you’re an African.” While I am hesitant to blame the lack of help and compassion completely on racism, it is clear that Western sentiment toward Africa’s problems has been characterized by nothing but indifference.

My hope is that if anything, the tsunami will not distract Americans from other extremely important global issues but rather will motivate us to inform ourselves about other tragedies of our time. If a natural disaster that has taken over 150,000 lives cannot wake up the world to the human suffering that is happening all over the globe, I struggle to imagine what will.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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