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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Remembrance

An update from Hayley, a junior majoring in anthropology and French. She is also blogging here.

Today Ketetha and I got up super early and enjoyed the beautiful Rwanda view before breakfast, which was delicious btw.

Our first stop of the day was the genocide memorial in Kigali, which was powerful to say the least. Outside the memorial are gardens and mass graves, totaling about 250,000 bodies. It was so moving and eerie to see the sheer number of people killed in one place, but the whole memorial was based on hope for the future and honoring the dead, so that made it a bit easier to deal with.

Inside was a history of the genocide complete with witness testimony as well as a series of rooms that contained victims’ pictures, bones, skulls and clothing. I really appreciated how the museum recognized the identity of those killed, which is hard to focus on when there are so many casualties. Looking at the pictures and belongings made me think about these peoples’ lives and the impact they made on the country. The museum was also very interesting in how it portrayed the international community as useless in stopping the violence and how Rwanda has returned to unity today. A truly difficult day, but something I will never forget.

We then went to lunch at Chez John, a buffet where I had delicious rice, plantains, avacados and potatoes. Yum! During lunch the monsoon rains came in and it was crazy to see the rivers of water, red from dirt, flow down the streets in huge quantities.

We went outside the center of the city to a school/community center where kids can take classes and job preparation/skill set courses to improve the chances of getting a supportive job. This place did everything. Our guide Claude showed us the whole facility and talked about the difference that job seminars, education and health programs are making in the community. We wanted to stay for the graduation of 19 students (14-18 years old) from a one-month technology course, but ran out of time.

On a side note, a bunch of kids playing soccer came and hugged us which was the CUTEST thing ever. They were so sweet.

Our final stop was a super-crowded marketplace where Amon, our awesome guide, helped us haggle for prices. I bought some beautiful paper beads. This place was soooo crowded and tiny. I couldn’t believe how much stuff/people were in such a small space. Definitely a culture shock.

After a quick nap we went to dinner at a delicious restaurant called Heaven (which had mostly American customers LOL). I had chicken with peanut sauce and caramel ice cream.  Jimmy was nice enough to pay for our dinner, which was awesome considering a lot of us didn’t have enough Rwandan francs to pay. I can’t believe this is only the first day and we have so much left to look forward to.

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