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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Last day in Rwanda (Part 1)

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

I woke up at 5:45 am beneath my mosquito net, really not feeling well. Apparently I had been moaning and coughing in my sleep. It stormed badly the night before, and water came in under our door, completely soaking my backpack and clothing I had set out for the day. I took a deep breath and committed to praying through the day. I’m here in Africa, I’m alive, and I am beyond blessed.

The girls and I freshened up and made our way to Mama Arlene’s home to greet her good morning. She truly is an angle, bringing heaven to earth. She glows with the love of Jesus even at 6 am. Then we went up to the nursery to help the other “mamas” (kind, beautiful young women who speak very little English) bathe and dress the little ones. Allison helped wash them clean while the rest of us waited to help dry, lotion, and dress. Little naked black babies, dripping wet and wide-eyed, tip-toed over to us one at a time and stood before us with silent expectation. I gingerly wiped water from their cheeks, tummy, and bottom and I felt more privileged to show love in this way than ever before. They badly need new clothes, especially underwear and socks, but they use what they have and are thankful. I now value clean panties so much more. What a luxury.

After baths, the children ate their breakfasts of bread and porridge on our laps or in our arms. Ketetha even walked in with one of the babies strapped to her back, a long piece of wrapped cloth holding him on. The African women carry their babies this way while walking along the roads or bending over in the fields. I will never forget the image of a sleeping, chubby-cheeked face pressed against mama’s back. Precious. This is one custom I am committed to adopting. Strollers will become useless! I will also carry things on my head and wear long patterned skirts. I am an African woman.

After breakfast, Mama Arlene took us into the pre-school on Urukundo’s grounds. Oh goodness, seeing those kids in class was like a little present from God. Mama Arlene would ask “Good morning, how are you?” in her assertive, aged voice and 15 little voices in a Rwandese accent would politely reply “I’m fine, thank you” perfectly in unison. Children were asked to complete tasks individually, such as count 1 to 10 in English, or retrieve a blue, yellow, and red block from the shelf. So much discipline and gentleness. A better quality pre-school experience than any I’ve ever seen.

Ketetha and I spent the rest of the morning in the nursery, helping to feed the babies and keep the little ones occupied with books and puzzles. I made special connections with Nelly, David, Emmanuel, Soso, and Ejid. They are bright and beautiful children – it hurts my heart that they were found alone and left behind, “throw-away babies.” But Mama Arlene adopted them into her home, the same way God saved me from a broken world and adopted me into His kingdom.

While I was with the little ones, the boys helped clear land with machetes – the African way – and the girls helped to knock down a brick wall and organize Urukundo’s book an movie library. It was the least we could do for a woman who has done so much in so many lives.

I told Oscar – Mama Arlene’s sweet assistant and the pastor at Urukundo, a young man who has been through so much and survived the genocide – that I know God is calling me to live in Africa. He turned over his shoulder and looked back at me with such affirmation, with eyes that said “of course He is.” Oscar is a tall and lovely man with a deep, kind voice. He walks through the hills and dirt paths with Mama Arlene securely on his arm, laughing “mom” whenever she teases him. They are precious.

When we left, Mama took me into her arms, so strong for 85-years-old, and whispered “Oh Katie, God love you” in my ear. Oscar held my hand and said “I will see you again very soon.” I hope he’s right.

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