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.

Uganda: Rural life (Part 1)

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

This has certainly been an adventure… I have had the time of my life. Africa has far exceeded my expectations – my time here has been incredible in every sense of the word. I don’t even know how to put it into words, it’s just too much and still sinking in. But I know I must, because I don’t want to forget a single detail of my time here – the people, their smiles, the way the food tastes, the sounds of the land waking me up, the unreal green everywhere I look.

This entire experience has been so physically and emotionally and spiritually and intellectually overwhelming that I have to remind myself it’s really happening. I know this will require more than a week’s worth of reflection… I will think back to my experiences here for the rest of my life. I hope it informs my future choices, career path, lifestyle… I know that’s a tall order, but I have complete confidence that it will. And I know that I will come back many, many times. I just know it.

First of all, I adore the group of people we are here in Uganda with… I love them so so much. Empower African Children  is just the most incredible non-profit, so honest and genuine and transparent. So much momentum and desire to more forward, grow, and change lives. We are with Frank Roby, the CEO, and his wife, Linda, as well as two staff members, Courtney, who works in the Dallas office, and Jeremy, who works here in the Kampala office. Then the 6 amazing students, all our age, spending the week with us: Maureen, Faith, Brian, Daniel, Willington, and Simon Peter. Ugandans and Americans, blacks and whites, students and adults, all together, all friends. We’ve only spent 3 days together and already, we’re a family. I can’t imagine how much closer we’ll become in the next 3 days.

Kampala is an interesting city. Coming from Kigali – organized, clean, and beautiful – Kampala left an unpleasant first impression. It’s very crowded and very loud and dirty and the traffic is the most frustrating and horrific phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed. However, it has slowly started to grow on me. There are hidden gems within this place, you just have to look past the chaos and urban slums. Even so, it was really refreshing to get away from Kampala and spend time out in rural Uganda. I feel much more in my element there, much more at home. My heart longs for the red dirt roads and the endless green, the cows and the goats and the chickens, the children running free and the sky gorgeous both in its clear blue warmth and in blankets of rain-filled clouds.

We spent the early afternoon touring Sunrise School, a little patch of heaven on earth that is so much more than a school. We saw classrooms and a garden, the health clinic – Grace Family Health Center, the community programs, including an artisan group of 25 women making crafts, as well as the camp grounds and guest house where we stayed the night.

I particularly enjoyed touring the health clinic with Moses, a gentle and nurturing man, eager to show us around. The center provides pre-natal and maternity care to women in the community who would otherwise have no access to it. Rural women have 2 options: spend all their money on transport into the city and hospital fees or deal with pregnancy and childbirth entirely on their own, putting their own health and their baby’s health at risk. I’ve read so much about neglected maternal health care (Nicholas Kristoff’s Half the Skybut now that my older sister is expecting and I have a little niece or nephew on the way, it resonates so much more.

After taking a refreshing and filling lunch of local food (Maureen guided me through and made me try absolutely everything), we began our service projects. They threw us immediately into the work with a long hike up to the top of a steep hill through grass taller than me. It was quite invigorating and so nice to use my legs! And of course, the view from the top was astounding. There, we gathered grass, tied it up into bundles, and carried it down the hill atop our heads in the African custom. My body was created to move and sweat, my muscles to work hard, and my lungs to breathe fresh air. Then, I painted the labor room in the health center a bright and striking green. The process was very informal and haphazard, little planning or regulation, but the fact is – it was a stark improvement in appearance from before. Ugandans and Americans: we toiled together to benefit a community.

While some of us painted, the rest thatched a roof over a small vaccination area (vaccinations are offered free to the community each Thursday) with the grass we gathered. We finished the afternoon worn out, totally covered in paint and dirt and dust, itching from the grass and smiling altogether. God was with us and the day was lovely.

While resting between work and supper, I stumbled upon a little girl, Agnes. She immediately ran away from me, not from fear, but from wanting me to chase her! She was such a spirited girl, quick in her movements and bright in her eyes. She was also dirty and sick, with wounds all over her skin and gashes full of dust on the soles of her small feet. I don’t know who she belonged to or where she came from, but I know she wanted me as her friend. I picked her up and spun her around, tickled her to the ground, and locked my eyes into hers without looking away. She touched my heart in those few sweet moments.

More later!

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Our African tour

An update from Allison, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, math and dance:

Two and a half weeks in Africa was just enough to scratch the surface of understanding the central and southern regions of the continent.  I along with six other students were overwhelmed with new sights, sounds, foods, animals, education curricula, government systems, social structures, and everything in between.  I feel as if I took a whirlwind tour of the most tragic and poverty-ridden sites in the world right alongside the most beautiful landscapes and colorful cultures.


Our first week in Rwanda I experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum every single day.  When touring the Kigali, Ntarama, Nyamata, and Murambi genocide memorial sites, I saw the destructive capabilities of humankind.  I’ve never felt so close to death as I did walking through a narrow corridor of shelves lined ground to ceiling with skulls and bones, the dampness of the underground cavern and odor of skeletons permeating my skin.

As soon as you walk back outside, though, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the kids are laughing on their way to school.  No matter how dark Rwanda’s past was, you cannot help being touched by the beauty and hope in the land and its youth.  The will to push forward after that tragic event 18 years ago was very evident at the different organizations we visited – whether they were homes for children, rehabilitation centers, or dance classes for kids living on the street.

One of my favorite visits in Kigali was the afternoon with Rebecca Davis Dance Company, which works in partnership with FIDESCO.  Kids living on the street come to take a dance class three afternoons a week, followed by a session where they can share their stories and a basic IT course.  In only one afternoon, I could see the excitement in the kids’ faces and how they used dance as an outlet for the hardships they have been dealt so early in life.  The confidence and renewed purpose for education they acquire, along with access to FIDESCO’s social services and programs for reintegration with their families, help put them back on the right track.


Driving from Kigali to Kampala, we got to see the stunning landscape – the hills with clouds sitting in the valleys.  We stopped at a stand on the side of the road to eat fresh pineapple, watched the water spin different ways as we crossed the equator, and went to a drum-making shop that turned into an impromptu dance session.

Kampala has five times the number of people as Kigali, and we arrived in the middle of rush hour with boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) weaving in and out of the cars and people.  The busyness of the streets was just preparing us for the full week ahead of us.

Our week in Uganda was spent with six students from the Empower African Children (EAC) organization, and they quickly became our best friends.  We began the week with talks in a conference room, followed by a trip to a rural village where we did service work and spent the night in a camp.  We got the experience of carrying grass on our heads down a mountain to thatch a roof, and we also heard Ugandan folktales around a campfire.

For the rest of the week, we were mostly focused on our different areas of research.  We got to talk to the “who’s who” of Uganda, including the U.S. ambassadors, a professor, a lawyer, and microfinance business owner, a teacher in the arts, a school principal, a tourism business owner, and the list goes on.

I focused on an organization called In Movement that provides an arts education for schoolchildren in hopes of promoting social change.  However, I ended up learning about the entire scope of Uganda – the failures and successes of its education system, government corruption, oil and gas laws, etc.  It was very helpful to not only get the perspective of the professionals, but to get the Ugandan students’ take on the issues as well.  Meanwhile, we got to see Lake Victoria, eat grasshoppers, and learn Ugandan dances and drumming.  EAC provided us with a fantastic weeklong experience, and both the Ugandan and American students learned a lot from each other.

South Africa

Our last few days were spent in Johannesburg.  At first it felt like we were back in the States, until we visited Soweto.  The poverty gap there is enormous, and as you drive through the city you go from upscale white neighborhoods to complete slums in the black areas of the town.

We walked around one of the areas of Soweto, Kliptown, where the houses were made out of scrap metal and one water tap was serving a whole community, along with a couple portable toilets that were cleaned only once or twice a week.  In learning about apartheid, we discovered that racial tensions still exist there, despite the positive view that South Africa shows the international community.

On our last full day, we went to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.  We got to see lots of different animals, like giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and hippos, and some were even right next to our car windows.  Just like Rwanda and Uganda, South Africa has its beauty to offer as well as its hardships.

Overall, it was a great trip.  I learned so much more than I ever would have in a book or on the Internet, and these experiences will stay with me for a lifetime.  Even in the short time I’ve been home, I’ve viewed everything through the perspective that I acquired this past month.  Now when I talk about the issues that Africa faces and start to tackle them for myself, I can fall back on my own opinions instead of those that others have formed.

Central and southern Africa have so many natural and human resources; it’s just a matter of direction.  Hopefully everyone, including myself, can learn from the past mistakes and move forward with determination and grace.

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Postcards from Kampala

An update from Frank Roby, SMU ’74, CEO of Dallas-based Empower African Children, who traveled to Kampala to bring together university and post-secondary Ugandan students in his organization with SMU students:

If you went to summer camp, you probably remember that feeling of not really knowing anyone. But since your parents had already dropped you off, you just hoped for the best. Sure enough, you had a new best friend by the end of the week.

I had that feeling last week, but in an entirely different context. There I was in a room with six of our Ugandan students in our university and post-secondary program, sitting alongside seven SMU President’s Scholars in Uganda for a study abroad experience — the first in the history of Empower African Children. Would they make a new friend or did I really put together two groups that were so different it would end up being as miserable as the time you went to camp and sat in poison ivy?

This is a clear case of a picture being worth a thousand words. You see here two students from completely different circumstances, finding that what they shared was so much more significant than what they knew to be different. A genuine friendship was born.

Studying through the Embry Human Rights Program at SMU, the American students came to Africa to explore how their specific interests affected the rights of others. They studied genocide in Rwanda, but when they came to Uganda, they were looking into women’s health, education, law, technology, entrepreneurship, and the arts as a way to improve the wellbeing of those whose circumstances make them vulnerable to human rights abuse, namely extreme poverty.

Facing the reality of providing for future families, the Ugandan students were mostly focused on trade, marketing, accounting, and psychology. But they knew the devastating impact of abject poverty, and they knew they had answers to questions most people were afraid to ask.

During their time together, the students camped in rural Uganda, worked together on community service projects, and attended private dinners and receptions with leading Ugandan business people in Kampala. We even had an official briefing from the U.S. Embassy and a private home reception provided by Deputy Ambassador Virginia Blazer, an SMU alum.

Toward the end of the week, after a panel discussion by several leaders in business, education, and with NGOs, the SMU students concluded the session by sharing their experience in Rwanda. That’s when the question came up. Could genocide happen in Uganda, too? After all, there are tribes in Uganda, they do not always agree, and by now everyone knows about Kony and the LRA, right?

I was so proud of our students. Not that they said it would never happen, but that they were so committed to making sure it never happened; they would commit to keeping the communication open and to respect the rights of others. In fact, our students come from all sections of the country and many of the leading tribes. Every word became personal, and yet the youthful wisdom in the room seemed to say, “Not on my watch.”

I’m remembering the old days of sending pre-addressed postcards to camp with our children. Everything was fine then, just like it was last week in Uganda. I had a gut feeling this would end up a best friend story — a story that went beyond Facebook and became about how the barriers to relationship break down when people earn the trust and respect of others. No poison ivy ending here.

Empower African Children Scholar Daniel with SMU President's Scholar Michael

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

Yesterday morning we arrived in Johannesburg after a VERY early flight.  It looks just like the U.S., which is quite a shock after Kampala.  We are staying in an awesome guesthouse and got to talk a lot with the owner and architect. It’s so beautiful.

Our first stop was the Apartheid museum, which was the biggest museum I’ve ever seen.  We spent two hours there, but could have probably spent 20 there was so much reading.  It was really interesting, especially because none of us have really studied Apartheid before. I learned a lot but it was very overwhelming!

We went to dinner at a yummy French cafe and then to bed early, which was nice.

Today we went to the University of Witswatersrand, which houses the International Human Rights Exchange. We talked to the director, a professor and a student, and I’ve definitely decided that I want to study abroad here in the Spring!! The campus is beautiful and the program houses one of the only human rights programs with an internship to supplement coursework. Katie and I are so excited to study here!

We had a brief talk with the owner of the guesthouse and her experiences with Apartheid.  Interestingly, she grew up in a racially mixed family and interracial communication was normal for her. She told us that Apartheid, although supported by law, was bound to fail because it was not universally practiced. We went shopping and to an awesome restaurant called Melon tonight, and tomorrow we’re going on a safari!! So excited!

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Uganda: City life

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

Today was a nice transition into Uganda. We got to meet up with Frank (CEO of Empower African Children, the non-profit we will be partnering with here in Uganda) and his wife Linda for a lovely breakfast this morning at the ARA (American Recreation Association) where we are staying. I was slightly cranky and cramping – ugh! – but in high spirits, nonetheless. Michael forgot to change his clock since Kampala is an hour ahead of Kigali so I had to wake him up!

I’m so glad Frank and Linda are here with us, they’re both such sweethearts, completely committed to changing kids’ lives and fully capable of doing so. Linda told us about a church group she’s leading to the Holy Land this Christmas break and said Michael and I were more than welcome to join! I’d so love to go…. Already planning my next adventure….

Amon took us around Kampala, and you could so tell this place is his home. We went to the National Museum – very informative, but not the most exciting place in the world….

But then – LUNCH! Oh my gosh it was incredible. We requested authentic Ugandan food from Amon, and he gave us exactly that. We all got a bowl of broth with half a fish in it, bones, skin, and all. Then we got a plate full of interesting local things – pumpkin, a certain kind of banana, cassava, and other yummy things. I tried banana juice – a very strong and incredibly sweet syrup-like drink…seemed like it should go more in the category with caramel than with juice. The passion fruit juice was a bit tart and the cocktail juice – watermelon, carrot, and other things – was refreshing. We also had bowls of purple millet; you pull some off with your fingers, roll it into a ball like dough, press your thumb in to make a mini bowl, dip it in the fish broth, then eat the whole thing! I can’t even describe the taste!

We walked around the corner (for our digestion, according to Amon) and spent some time at the craft market! I bought tons of great handmade bracelets for all my girlfriends (and for super cheap!)

Kampala is quite different from Kigali. I picked up a habit early on of writing down every interesting sign and billboard I saw while driving. Some are incredibly thought-provoking and others quite absurd. Please enjoy:

  • Coca-Cola advertisement (the only American brand I saw advertised in Uganda): “Open Happiness – A Billion Reasons to Believe in Africa”
  • “Beating my wife destroyed my marriage. Don’t do what I did.” – True Manhood, USAID
  • Newspaper headline: “Educated Women Cheat Most”
  • “Save the children in Uganda!”
  • Gallery and craft shop: “Support the women in Uganda”
  • “Democratic Governments thrive on openness” – Human Rights Uganda, ActionAid
  • “Who are you really sleeping with? Get off the sexual network, get tested for HIV, start a new life” (numerous billboards picturing embracing couples)
  • Gaddafi National Mosque – built by Idi Amin and finished by Muammar Gaddafi…
  • “Is this a fair fight? Choose not to use violence.” (Picture of  husband and wife slapping each other)
  • “La Butchery: Goat’s Meat, Ox Liver, Kidney”
  • “New Obama” – Sudanese Restaurant
  • “Obama’s Kabalagala” – another restaurant
  • “For Democracy, Reject Ignorance” ; “Listen, Analyse, Choose” ; “We are all Ugandans – Voting should not divide us” – political statements painted boldly on fences
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An update from Hayley, a junior majoring in anthropology and French. She is also blogging here.

Today we got back from our two-day trip to Urukundo, a home for children near Butare in southern Rwanda. It was such an awesome opportunity!

Yesterday we went to the genocide memorial at Murambi, which was a technical school where 50,000 people died in 1994. This was the most difficult memorial we have been to as there were 24 classrooms in six buildings containing lime-preserved bodies. The stench was awful, and the sight very gruesome, especially seeing the bodies that were clearly children. Just horrific.

After that rough start we headed to Urukundo orphanage where we met Mama Arlene, who, at age 85, cares for 40 abandoned 3 to 7 year olds. Truly amazing!

We were greeted by a bunch of joyous little kids who we played with all day! My favorite was 4-year-old Kenny who attached himself to my hip and was the most adorable thing ever!!!

In addition to playing with the kids we did some manual labor. Allison, Amanda and I took down a brick wall and spent the rest of the day covered in dirt, which was funny. Although the home severely lacked proper facilities, it was clear these kids were provided with love and a good home, which was awesome to see! Ill miss them so much!

Today we also went to FIDESCO, one of Allisons NGO contacts that provides a five-month home for street kids and introduces them to dance. We attended a dance class and all the kids were so cute! Katie and Ketetha joined in on across the floor exercises, also really funny.

Ate a yummy dinner at an Italian place called Sola Luna and going to bed soon so I can get up at 5:30 to start the 10-hour drive to Kampala Uganda…I am excited but will miss Rwanda so much!

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Last day in Rwanda (Part 2)

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

Leaving Urukundo was tough – I wish we had been able to stay longer… I have a feeling that I may be back sometime in the future. Those children’s sweet faces and prayers will forever be imprinted on my heart. After leaving, we headed to our last stop in Rwanda, a non-profit pertaining to Allison’s research on community arts programs. This program in particular was started by Rebecca Davis Dance in partnership with FIDESCO, an international humanitarian and development non-profit. The program offers dance classes to street boys (kids who don’t attend school and survive alone on the streets), as well as basic IT courses.

Rebecca Davis, an American ballerina, started this program out of her desire to “use dance as a tool of community revitalization.” This really affected me…. For the past semester I have been greatly struggling to understand who I am as a dancer and what I am even supposed to do with it. I asked myself more than once, “What’s the point? What can I do for the world with a degree in dance…?” God has continually given me peace through these times of frustration and encouraged me to continue pursuing what I love. Because I truly, truly love to dance. Seeing what Rebecca Davis was able to do with classical ballet training combined with a highly successful academic resume (Fulbright Scholar and a Master of International Relations) really encouraged me. I had hoped that dance could be used in this way, but up until this point, I never actually experienced it.

As we walked into the area where the classes are held, we heard music and my heart just about skipped a beat from excitement! We hadn’t expected them to be holding class on a Friday afternoon, but God’s timing proved to be perfect yet again! They were stretching and warming up just as we walked in.

I adore the universality of dance. Those boys spoke not a word of English and have probably never seen a ballet performance in their life, but who cares? We speak the same language. They stretched in the very same way that I would in a jazz class at SMU. We all have the same body, 2 feet and 2 hands. Cultural differences seem to set us apart, but in reality – we are all dancers. Mirrors and pianists and leotards – those are not what define a dance class. Half of them were shirtless, wearing tattered shorts and dirty from head to toe. But everything inside of me smiled to see them do the very same things I do every single day. A dance class for street boys in Uganda is no different from a dance class for students in an American university.

After warm-up, the boys lined up to go across the floor one at a time. They started out with their battements, striving to press their shoulders down and stretch their knees. By the time pirouettes came around, I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to join them. After my first time across the floor, giving my very best triple pirouettes, I got cheers and thumbs up from lots of the boys. Somehow, approval from these boys gave me infinitely more satisfaction and joy than an A in ballet class….

We jumped and leaped and spun across the floor over and over and over again. I had the time of my life…. I ended class with hugs and high-fives. With each goodbye, God whispered to me that He blessed me with the gift of dance so that I could bless His children through it. I will be back, I have absolutely no doubt. Yay dance!

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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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Day 3 in Rwanda – Urukundo (“Love”)

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

We went to the last and most sickening genocide memorial this morning, Murambi, a 2-and-a-half drive from Kigali. I don’t care to write or reflect on it right now – my heart has had enough for this week. All I know is that this world is broken and our God is good.

I am currently laying in my bunk at Urukundo (“Love”) with Allison above me and a white mosquito net around me. I feel like I’m in a princess canopy bed. Urukundo is a children’s home run by Mama Arlene, an 85-year-old saint from New Hampshire. She’s just a normal mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, but she called on God to do something in her life and guess what? He brought her to Africa to care for His children.

She is a woman of God and overflowing with love… Her Rwandese assistant, Oscar, is no different. He is a reflection of Christ. This place is home to 43 children. Most are orphans or “throw-away babies” – children who were found as infants abandoned and left behind.

After Mama Arlene showed us around the guest house and the pre-school, she took us to meet the toddlers. Oh my goodness, did they ever touch my heart… 15 little boys and girls, so polite and well-behaved. I was the first to crouch down and open my arms to them – within 3 minutes we all had one baby on our hip and two more holding our hand. We read books to them, we cuddled them, Corbin and Michael gave rides on their shoulders. I love children… I love them. I want to be a mother to every throw-away baby in the entire world.

I had a special friend named Johnny. He is 3 years old and at first I thought he was a girl because of the hot pink floral rain jacket he was wearing. He particularly enjoyed giving me kisses – on my nose, my cheek, my lips. He has big round eyes and a silent chuckle that makes me want to cry – it’s so beautiful. His spirit is so gentle and God has blessed him so much.

We all prayed together, served the kids dinner and then ate our own, and then joined in their daily evening devotion. We sat in a circle, Americans and Rwandans together, and prayed and worshipped and heard the word of God – Isaiah 61:1-4. The Spirit of God moved in that place… 5-year-old Nelly sat to my right and acted very shy. But as we sang “Because He Lives” she looked into my eyes the entire time. She was so pleased that I knew the words. We just sat there, looking at each other, both with brown eyes, and singing to our same God. I hope He whispered the same secrets into her heart as He did into mine: We are all His children. An orphan in Africa and a student in America – we’re the same. Loved by our Lord.

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The world stood by

An update from Michael, a junior majoring in philosophy, English and political science:

The Rwandan genocide swept through the country so quickly and completely that nothing was spared from its wrath. Even the holiest of places here, the Christian churches, became sites of unfathomable slaughter. During previous bouts of ethnic violence leading up to the 1994 genocide, churches were safe havens for the persecuted and the hunted. That disappeared with the systematic annihilation of the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda by the Hutus.

One such site we visited today was an absolute deathtrap. Nothing we found there was joyous. The site is called Ntarama, and over 5,000 people were killed there at one time. There were many people inside the church, in the kitchen off to one side and in the Sunday school. Because bullets were limited for the Hutu killers, grenades were hurled at the buildings in order to destroy the structure and those inside.

The damage to the church is clearly obvious, with huge holes blown through the church walls, but the killing is not apparent until one enters the church. Piled everywhere and hanging from the ceiling are the clothes of genocide victims. The dirty, ragged and bloody clothes create a haunting reminder of what no longer fills them. It is like the people just disappeared.

But the bones of many of the victims remain. Skulls, femurs and other bones line the walls on shelves so that people can see how they were killed. It is grotesque, morbid, haunting even, but I think that the display is wholly justified for its attempt to show the world what atrocities happened here in Rwanda.

In the kitchen, many people were burned alive, and the clothes of the victims still remain where they fell in piles of ash and charred remains. This place does not change. It will always be a site that stands as a memorial to the dead and a reminder of what every human being is capable of doing.

No one was safe, and the world stood by and watched as well over a million people were killed because of their ethnicity in three months in this country. Visiting these sites is a stark reminder of the failures of the international community, our own failures as members of that community, and the consequences of hate bred from differences between people. We should always do more. Human life is too precious not to stop this from happening yet again.

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