Human Rights, Rwanda 2012

A group of 20 SMU students, faculty and staff are in Rwanda in August 2012 with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. After the African country’s 1994 civil war, in which as many as a million people were killed in 100 days, “history lives on,” says group leader and program director Rick Halperin. The SMU group are helping in the healing process by sharing donated books and classroom and medical supplies with schools and orphanages. They also are visiting genocide sites and meeting with survivors.

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A new perspective and appreciation for life

An update from Laura, a senior human rights major:

Water pressure! After getting home from the airport yesterday and taking a much-anticipated shower, I noticed how nice it is to have good water pressure. This gave me the opportunity for the “ah-ha” moment from my trip to Rwanda with the Embrey Human Rights Program. I began to think about all of the things that we take for granted every day here in the United States: taking a warm shower, being able to brush your teeth with tap water, a good Internet connection, breathing clean air, an education, health care, safety and the crux of the list: life.

As college students with bright futures, we don’t think about our days as being limited. Oftentimes we get the invincible feeling. Tutsi students our age in Rwanda may have had that feeling in 1994 until their own Hutu neighbors began hunting them to their deaths. Tutsis flocked to churches, following instructions from church and community leaders. Who would kill someone in a church? Many of the memorial sites we visited were churches where Tutsis sought shelter. Their killers had no consideration for the significance of the church, and they murdered men, women, and children in incredibly violent ways.

Driving back from Butare on Friday morning, our driver JD began showing us his experience of the genocide. JD was 15 when the genocide occurred. He showed us the ruins of his teacher’s house and the jungle where he spent a week hiding and protecting his sister. JD lost 7 family members in the 1994 genocide. We had spent the week talking and learning about the genocide with JD. Hearing his personal account of the genocide caused me to respect and admire his courage and the courage of all of the survivors we met this past week.

I will be starting this semester with a new perspective. Life is fragile, and every day is a gift. When classes get tough, I cannot complain. I get to attend a university. The smiles of the children and love I felt from them during our interactions will remind me that happiness can be found in the simplicity of a hug, high-five or playing soccer with an empty water bottle. Thinking about the courage and bravery of the genocide survivors will help me persevere through difficult times in my life. My trip to Rwanda taught me more than just information about the genocide. It taught me important life lessons and changed me. There is no such thing as a lesser person.

Michelle (right) and I in our “Africa pants” on campus, on our way back from D/FW Airport.

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