The Books and Beyond Service Learning Trip, was an experience that genuinely changed my life; from the people I met, the places I was given the opportunity to see, the things I learned, and the way I lived. This trip opened my eyes to the quality of life, the value of education, the importance of community, and my own future aspirations. The Books & Beyond service-learning trip is a study abroad opportunity that not only gives you the chance to get an inside look at life in Rwanda but to become a part of a community, and indulge in their culture. At the end of the trip, the Rwandese people we interacted with became more than colleagues, they became family, and the things we did became more than an obligation but instead a consecration.
Being a member with the service-learning trip 2014, was one of the best decisions of my life. I made life-long friends from Indiana University, New Jersey and Rwanda as well. The trip not only granted me friends, but also capitalized on my interest. Majoring in International Studies with a concentration in Human Rights and International Law, with a minor in Education Policy and a regional concentration in Africa, it would seem that this trip was specially personalized to fit my interest. This experience has not only aided in me growing personally, but will benefit me academically, and professionally. I have seen changes in my conservation of energy, and water usage. I am also more appreciative of the things I have, while realizing some things are not a necessities. I have pinpointed several changes a month long stay has had on my life, but I also realize there are things about me that’s still evolving, and that this trip will play a huge role in the women I will become.
There were many things that left a big impact on me, and affected my outlook on life. As westerners we equate happiness with wealth, when happiness is really found in the life’s aesthetics. Kids in the village seemed more content with nothing than American kids seemed with the world at their feet. Zig Ziglar an American author once said “Until you are happy with who you are, you will never be happy with what you have.” This quote speaks volumes to me when reflecting and comparing the American way of life to the way Rwandans live. Although this was something that left a huge impression on me, the two things that left the biggest impact on one where the following: One being the students hunger for education, and secondly the strength of the people of Rwanda.
The students in Kabwende were exceedingly dedicated to their education. Primary school students would walk over an hour to school, regardless the weather. The students were committed to their education, with limited resources. All the resources available in the classroom were the students, and their teacher, yet they still made a way to make learning possible. Students learning environment-lacked the aesthetics of an American classroom but the students still saw the beauty in their education. Students did not just want to learn, they were hungry to learn. Education is a privilege that many American children take for granted, unaware of the struggle and longing that those less fortunate in Rwanda are forced to deal with. It brought me to realize how fortunate I am to be able to attend college, when most students in Rwanda stopped attending in 6th grade due to cost. Children were stealing material to learn, they wanted as many pencils, pens, and books, as they could get. Although this really spoke to me, there was one thing that left a bigger emotional impact on me and that was the Rwandese people.
The strength of the people is what left the biggest impact on me. Many people have seen the movie hotel Rwanda, and we sympathize with the storyline and may shed a tear, but it’s completely different to meet people who have been affected. It’s different when the person telling the story is not an actor getting paid millions for the scene, but instead someone you’ve grown to know. During our month stay, we were able to visit a genocide memorial. It was located in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. Kigali is the starting location for the mass killings, and also holds the memorial with over 250,000 Rwandans killed during the genocide. To watch the video footage and see the video testimonies of the people who survived the genocide, truly is something I will never forget. In one of the rooms dedicated to those killed, they hung victim’s photos on the wall. There were hundreds of pictures, and amongst the pictures was a note. A girl had written a letter to her deceased aunt whose picture was one of the thousands hanging on the wall. In the note to her aunt, the girl talked about how all the familiar faces that were in the memorial, how she missed them, how life has been without them and all the things she hoped to accomplish. In the room adjacent to the photomontage was a space dedicated to the children murdered during the genocide, most of who were mere infants in their parent’s arms. On the outside of the children’s memorial room it read, “Not even the innocent survived.” Thinking of how many people lost not only their aunts but also their whole family, to think about how many parents lost their children, and to take it even further, imagining how it could have been me impacted me on levels I never experienced.
What made the experience so thought provoking was the fact that the genocide happened in 1994. The date is what separates the genocide in Rwanda from the Jewish holocaust, or the European colonization of the Americas. This happened 20 years ago, it happened during my lifetime. I was born in 1993, and the genocide happened in 1994. So, everyone my age and older was affected. People in my generation lived through it. My personal views were changed once I received personal testimonies. Individuals shared how they’ve lost everyone, and everything they owned. It changes things when a friend tells you they live in fear, fear that what happened in 1994 could happen again. Several Rwandans we grew close with shared on separate occasions their experiences during the genocide. Every story sounded tragically familiar. To imagine what they went through literally brings tears to my eyes. The genocide was an experience they all lived through, but will never fully recover from. However, despite all they have lost, they look at the world envisioning all they have to gain. Meeting and befriending people who’ve lives have been altered makes the genocide deeper than just a movie, or a topic covered in a history class, it makes it real.
No matter where, or your reason for traveling, there’s always something astonishing to be found. The benefit of a study abroad is greater than all the pictures you can download to social media; it’s about what happens afterward. My place of travel happened to be Rwanda. Rwanda, or the land of 1,000 hills, as the Rwandese people call it, is a small country located in central Africa surrounded by Burundi, Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. Rwanda is a beautiful country that cannot seem to shake its tragic history. When hearing the name Rwanda, many people recall the genocide in 1994 that took the lives of 800,000 Rwandans. This was an extremely bloody catastrophe for not only Rwanda but also the world. Several Rwandans would always say, there is more to Rwanda than what happen in 1994, now I finally know what they mean.