Student Leadership Initiative, Africa

Seven members of SMU’s recently formed Student Leadership Initiative (SLI) are in Rwanda, Uganda and Johannesburg during May 2012. The students are researching human rights issues and empowerment solutions for three African countries recovering from decades of genocide, war, famine, disease and apartheid. Pat Davis, associate director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, is accompanying them on the program.

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Day 1 in Rwanda

An update from Katie, a sophomore majoring in dance, international studies and human rights:

I just woke up from a nap and I feel wonderful. Still amazed that I’m here, actually here, in Africa. Everywhere I look I see something entirely new, learn something new. I am overwhelmed by new experiences – new tastes, smells sounds. Allison and I just discussed the fact that our plan to passively lose weight while here is definitely a failure – our meals have been so rich and so delicious thus far!

We started our day early and so refreshed from traveling. I slept better than I ever have in a hotel. When we landed last night, the country was clothed in darkness and the hills dotted with lights like stars. So to wake up this morning and step out onto our balcony was a powerful breath of fresh air and disbelief – wow, we’re really in Africa and this place is so incredibly beautiful. After a bit of searching, Allison and I found the complimentary breakfast served on the covered balcony overlooking the city: “Panorama Restaurant.” Coming from flat, flat Texas, hills alone blow me away. I had a roll with a mini packet of Nutella (I know! Brilliant!), absolutely delicious bacon, papaya and pineapple, a hard-boiled egg, yummy coffee et sucre, and two types of juice: strawberry and some other strange red fruit, maybe with beets in it. I just spent way too many lines elaborating on my breakfast, but it was seriously such a great start to my Africa experience…

Then we met our guide, Amon, and his partner, William – they are SO awesome! Full of knowledge, and Amon seems to have friends wherever we go. I feel very safe with him. After leaving our hotel in our two “Volcano Safaris” jeeps, we headed to the Kigali Memorial Center – a cheery morning. I can’t say it was different than I expected, because I truly didn’t set any expectations. I know a lot about the genocide, I do. I’ve read a lot and studied up. But being here? In Rwanda, where it happened? Driving through gorgeous streets that were once jam-packed with machete-mutilated corpses at this time 18 years ago. Talking to real Rwandan people who were really affected by this tragedy. Seeings rooms full of family photos, the real lives and histories of the genocide victims – wedding photos, baby photos, candid shots smiling off into the distance at who knows what. Real people who were really raped and mutilated and murdered by their neighbors, relatives, and friends. We walked through mass graves laden with flowers, housing 250,000 bodies. There’s dignity in their burial, and for that I am thankful. But there was no dignity in their deaths….

The museum was beautiful and very well done. Powerful and informative and real. I felt very small and awkward, so sheltered and naive. A little girl with big dreams but no clue what this world is actually like. Reality check: we live in a broken and sinful world. People are inherently evil and we are nothing without the grace and righteousness of Christ. And no person is exempt from this…. It’s scary. We are separate from God apart from Christ. We are hateful and prejudiced and angry. We are all murderers, whether with our words, thoughts, or actions. It’s all the same. Don’t blame the Hutus. Don’t blame the international community’s ignorance. Blame humanity.

 

I bought a few treats from the museum gift shop – a beautiful apron, earrings, necklace, and the memorial souvenir book. Purchases I was proud of. Then we went to a fun and yummy lunch at this open-air buffet-style restaurant, Chez John. I drank Orange Fanta and ate a collection of interesting foods – rice, fried bananas, some sort of potato dish, cucumbers, interesting stringy beef – all very filling and satisfying. During lunch, the skies completely opened up and yes, I left my rain jacket in the room. Pouring down rain in Kigali is a fascinating experience. My hair was already a wavy, frazzled mess, so that didn’t matter much, but with the hills and the way the roads are situated, winding around the curved landscapes, it seems like tsunamis of brown water are crashing down the slopes and through the streets. I remembered how my mom used to tell me that God sends the rain because the trees are thirsty. These people are thirsty, too. Then I thought – I’m thirsty just like these people. We’re all thirsty and we just need God to quench our thirst. The trees and the people and me. All of us.

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