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Rwanda Summer 2015- Kelsey Gerbec

After over 8000 miles and 26 hours of traveling, we arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It was more urbanized than I expected, but it was still nothing compared to towns in the U.S. In Rwanda, people are constantly moving either by car, motorcycle, bike, or walking. We rarely drove anywhere that was not filled with people, even in the rural areas. On our first full day we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It was so beautifully done and was an inspiring remembrance of the tragedy that occurred in 1994. We had talked about the genocide in class, but it was so much more meaningful to witness the genocide from the Rwandan perspective. The facts were astonishing and it made me really appreciate the safety I feel at home.

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After our afternoon in Kigali, we headed to Akagera National Park for a two-day safari. On our ride to the park, we saw a lot more of what I expected to encounter in Rwanda: many houses without solid doors or windows, people waiting to fill yellow jugs of water, and children walking without shoes. Despite the lack of basic amenities, the people all appeared happy and content. It is amazing how satisfied a person can be when they do not know about unnecessary luxuries. Many of the people, especially the kids, waved to us as we drove by. Once we arrived at Akagera, we were out on the safari for eight hours and seen zebras, giraffes, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelope, warthogs, baboons, and various birds. It was unbelievable seeing all of the animals in their natural habitat.

After a week of traveling, we went to our house in Musanze, on the northwest side of the country. The town is the fourth largest city in the Rwanda, but it would be considered very small in the U.S. With about 80,000 people, there are only small shops and businesses, with few buildings taller than one story. Our house had five bedrooms, and plenty of space for everyone. We had the basic amenities of running water, electricity (most nights), and of course mosquito nets. We spent the nights playing games, singing, and getting to know each other, all of which are usually in the dark because we have power outages multiple times a day. I loved having so much time to read, journal, and talk with everyone without any distractions of technology.

We trained and created lesson plans for the classes that we taught at the Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi. We taught fourth and fifth graders for two weeks, and we also distributed books through Books & Beyond. There were four subjects: Practical English, Reader’s Theater, Writing, and Kinesthetics. I taught Practical English. We focused on the pronunciation of English sounds and words. We were exhausted at the end of each day, but the kids were so enthusiastic and eager to learn that it kept us energized. Some of the kids could form complete sentences, while other kids stared at us blankly. Sadly many of the kids had holes in their shirts, ripped shoes, and dirty feet. It broke my heart to see how underprivileged they were, but it only encouraged me more to do everything I could to help these kids improve their education.

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On one of our days off we went on an eight-hour hike up Mount Bisoke, one of the active volcanoes that surrounds Musanze. It was one of the most challenging things that I have ever done. It is over 12,000ft up, and the majority of the climb is covered in muddy rocks and branches. Not only was the terrain difficult to manage, but it was also hard adjusting to the altitude. Though the last hour and half to the top was a struggle both physically and mentally, it felt amazing to finally reach the peak and see the Crater Lake that had formed in the volcano. It was such an accomplishment to have made it. Of the 26 in our group, only 14 made it to the top. We were able to sit on the peak and eat out packed lunches before heading back down. The hike down the mountain was a completely different kind of challenging. Everything was so muddy and steep that we were falling and sliding all over. We made it to the bus just before dark, and despite my exhaustion, I was beaming. It was absolutely amazing and invigorating.

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When I left for this trip, I came into it looking for an amazing experience where I would get to discover a new country and gain teaching skills. As the bus drove away for the final time, I realized how much my mindset had changed. I wanted to do nothing but stay with these students, and teach them everything I possibly could. This experience reassured my decision to become a teacher, and I definitely want to teach abroad again. There are so many other places in the world like Kabwende Primary School, and I want to continue working with schools in desperate need. Overall, my trip to Rwanda was an unbelievably humbling experience. We were not simply travelers, but we became immersed in the culture and lifestyle of Rwanda. We learned the local language, visited schools around the country, ate the local food, and lived in a neighborhood. I now have a newfound eagerness to explore other parts of the world, and I cannot wait to see where in the world I will be able to teach next.


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Rwanda Excursion- Sierra Reed

This summer, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Rwanda with an amazing group of people under the organization Books and Beyond. We spent the first week travelling and getting used to the new environment. We definitely experienced culture shock, but after a week or so, Rwanda started to feel more and more like home. The second week, we got settled in at the house that we were to stay in for the rest of our trip and started our training to learn how to teach the kids at Kabwende Primary School most efficiently. The last two weeks were spent teaching at Kabwende. Over the month that we were there, we did things that I never thought I would do. We were all pushed out of our comfort zone and had to find our own way. It was tough at first, but we all made it and came out better people at the end of it.

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After being back in the United States for a couple months, I am still reminded every single day of Rwanda and all the wonderful people I met. I never expected to form such strong bonds with people there. I am baffled by all the kindness that everybody expresses. It makes the environment feel thriving and happy. All the kids at the school were so full of energy and excitement. It was hard to leave them behind. We all became close to our driver, cook, and guard because they lived with us and we were always with each other. These people became part of our family and leaving them was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I am thankful for modern technology because it will enable me to stay in touch with a lot of the people I became close to.

One of my favorite days from the trip was the day that we climbed Mt. Bisoke. We had been begging our professors to let us climb one of the volcanoes that surrounded the area we stayed at. When we got the news that we would actually be doing it, I was so excited. I went into it with a positive attitude thinking that it would be hard but doable. There was a large group of people and we tried to stay together, but there ended up being a couple groups. One of the girls from the trip and I managed to stay in the first group and made it to the top of the volcano first! It was so hard getting up to the top. It was exhausting and there were moments that I just wanted to sit down and stop. I kept going though, and I am so happy that I did. When I got to the top and looked around my breath was taken away. There was a crater lake in the middle, and you could see all the way out and down the mountain. There was some fog rolling over the trees and sunlight beaming down. It was one of the most gratifying moments in my life.

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In a perfect world, I would have enough money to go back and visit everybody in Rwanda. I am involved in Books and Beyond as a team leader this year, so maybe it will be possible to go back again. As one of our friends from Rwanda said, I will always have family in Rwanda. I will forever be tied to this country and its people. I have so much love and gratitude towards everyone. This was a trip that I will never forget.

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Education Advocacy: From Rwanda to Indiana

I used to think that I didn’t like government or, at least, I thought that it would be difficult for me to become involved in government. As a science major in college, I didn’t really have anything beyond your standard 6th grade knowledge on how government works. My week as an advocate for the Global Campaign for Education completely turned around my ideas about the power of government. It is powerful and citizens can use the government to advocate for change to the world.

When I first signed up to participate in the June 2015 Youth Advocacy Training, I was nervous about meeting with the representative in Congress from my home district. What would I say to a Congresswoman? However, GCE and their partners, such as the Global Partners for Education, USAID, UNICEF, and Contextos, prepared me with numbers, facts, and stories about the importance of education.

And I believe that global basic education is something we should be advocating for.

Throughout the world, 127 million children and adolescents are out of school. Without an education, these kids miss out on a better chance for good health and quality jobs, as well just an increased standard of living. Without the power to read, a child cannot even adequately read a medicine bottle or a job application. In order to fill the global education gap, $39 billion dollars is needed to fully finance 12 years of quality education for all children.

Since 2008, Books & Beyond has strived to help improve the quality of education at Kabwende Primary School in Kinigi, Rwanda. When B&B first started, our B&B predecessors visited Rwanda for one week, dropped off the volumes of The World is Our Home, toured some local attractions, and flew back home- which is good and definitely gave the students a book to read and learn vocabulary. But, we realized we were providing books, but no aid to the students or teachers on how to use the book to teach English (which had become the national language in 2008 with very little warning). So, in 2012, we instituted the Kabwende Holiday camp, a two week English and literacy camp for 200-300 students at the school each summer. By participating in this camp last summer and teaching Reader’s Theater, I realized how powerful a tool education truly is. While I did not cause any student to suddenly become fluent in English, I hope that I taught that learning and reading can be fun and maybe inspired a few students to continue to pursue knowledge.

That’s how Books & Beyond is helping to make a change across the globe, but how can we jumpstart these changes right here in the United States?

Susan W. Brooks

Abigail Hamilton (second from left) and fellow GCE advocates from across the country with Representative Susan W. Brooks

On Capitol Hill, I met with Representative Susan W. Brooks from my district in Indiana. We both shared a passion for education and a belief that education is the gateway for so many other things. Education should be a right and not a privilege given to a few. After discussing the need and our desire for global basic education, we asked Representative Brooks to consider joining the Global Basic Education Caucus in Congress. With this caucus, we hope that our government officials will also advocate for the need for universal education. With this caucus, GCE and all education advocates move a little closer to helping 127 more million children enter school.

Through GCE, I learned that government is not something unattainable, only reserved for those who strive for political office. We can all make our voices heard by knowing our facts, meeting with our representatives, writing letters, and starting advocacy campaigns. The government should truly work for its people and we can help make that happen. So, call up your representative or write a letter and let them know what matters to you and your community. You don’t have to traverse the globe to make a change. Get the change started in your community. It’s easier than you think.


Thank you to Global Campaign for Education-US and Books & Beyond for these opportunities!

And thank you to the Malala Fund Blog for previously sharing this post.


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Walk Down Memory Lane – Pratibha Joshi

At 5 years of age I traveled for the first time on an airplane. The experience was definitely amazing. Unfortunately I was quite preoccupied by the box of candies and stuffed toys the stewardess would bring out to realize that I was 35,000 ft above ground level. Traveling places and moving to new countries (and different houses within the county) became something natural for me in the past. Change became a constant. This didn’t particularly bother me as I have always been a curious child so seeing and living in a new environment would always excite me. I suppose this is probably one of the key reasons why I wasn’t too nervous about the idea of traveling to Rwanda. Two key reasons that motivated me to do a study abroad program just second semester down in IU were:

  1. Personally interact with the students and teachers in Kabwende Primary School
  2. Break the stereotype people around me had around Africa

I had already worked with the Books & Beyond project for a year before leaving for Rwanda and that was enough time for me to be wholeheartedly invested in it. Needless to say it has been very resourceful and an excellent learning experience overall. The only thing I felt missing from my experience was actually traveling to Rwanda and meeting those for whom and with whom I worked, miles away. I felt that the interaction would help me know the workings of the organization better since we are not based just at IU but New Jersey and Rwanda too.

A lot of people around me are hesitant of ever even traveling to any place in all of Africa based on certain events or baseless stories they hear word of mouth. I found that to be a very unfair judgement as they hadn’t even seen any of the continent and its culture. I wanted to show them Rwanda and a part of Africa through my eyes and experience.


Rwanda turned out to be not just a site where the B&B project worked but a walk down memory lane. I was surprised as I did not seem to feel any kind of culture shock that was mentioned and talked about at length in our class back at IU. Rwanda to me was what India had been when I was five years old. The buildings, houses, farms, way of interaction between people and even certain moral values reflected the old cultural ideas of India which are celebrated even today. I suppose if I really had to think of an instance that gave me a “culture shock”, it would have to be how much Rwanda was like home. Interestingly my nationality also helped me in a way to make friends in Rwanda. I had an hour-half conversation with a cashier at Tigo (a mobile network company) about Bollywood and his favorite actor Salman Khan. Bollywood really has gone places.

The most memorable parts of my trip would certainly be visiting John (a teacher at Kabwende school) and his family and taking up the challenge of teaching for the first time. I clearly remember how I embarrassed myself at John’s by crying 4 times in total. The sincerity and genuine warmth that his family gave me will remain as one of my most precious memories. Also the fact that he opened up to us and answered our questions with such eagerness made me feel even closer to them.


I never thought I’d get to teach let alone teach writing to children. I think my team-mate and now a great friend, Chris and I probably learned more from the children in our workshop than the other way round. We got down to their level and heard their stories (both in and outside of their notebook) and found creativity and talent in everything they did. Even their doodles were hilarious masterpieces! Seeing the Rwandan culture through the eyes and stories of these children was a refreshing and beautiful experience.


Amongst the crowd of locals meeting and hearing the foreigners’ take on Rwanda and personally getting to experience their amazing community-service projects in Rwanda was an honour in itself. To mention one of the many projects I had the opportunity to visit, Uboshubozi was a complete joy. Jeanne who runs the project aims at empowering girls who have economic or family related issues. The most heartwarming objective of the project for me personally, was how it provides skills to these women to make their own produce (various sizes and styles of bags, traditional Rwandan clothes and much more) and then independent from the project prepare to run their own cooperative. Not only do they learn skills to make their produce but also valuable marketing, management and budgeting skills.

Rwanda in my opinion is a land of opportunities for foreigners but also a country that has talented and hardworking individuals. I could spend only one month there but my desire to go back is strong and I hope to accomplish it soon. I would highly encourage students of IU and anyone else who gets the chance, to go and experience this beautiful country.

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Life Changing Rwanda Experience – MaCie’ Moore

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.

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Books & Beyond IU Foundation Page

We truly appreciate all the love and support you’ve given Books & Beyond all these years! It would’ve been impossible to reach where we are now without you. If you like our work in Rwanda and would like to contribute, please support us by visiting:

Books & Beyond IU Foundation Link

Anything you give will support Books & Beyond in continuing to make a difference through education.

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Books & Beyond Instagram Account!

We are super excited to inform you that Books & Beyond has just created an instagram account! Check out pictures from our events and be updated about our future activities through our instagram


We look forward to your comments on our instagram.

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