Odyssey to Rwanda

Travelers experience beauty, tragedy and hope in African nation

Hendrix trustee David Knight ’71 led 11 Hendrix students, President J. Timothy Cloyd, Provost Robert L. Entzminger and Dr. Daniel Whelan, assistant professor of politics and international relations, on an Odyssey to Rwanda. Through visits to sites such as the Sonrise Academy, where Hutu and Tutsi orphans live in harmony, and meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his ministers, the group learned first-hand how Rwandans are recovering from the genocidal war that almost destroyed their country.

The Republic of Rwanda in east-central Africa is a primarily agrarian country of 9.9 million people, the most densely populated country in Africa. Per capita income is $1,300. * “It is beautiful, friendly and small – about the size of Maryland,” Knight said, as he spoke to a group of Hendrix alumni and friends attending a Rwanda-focused “Hendrix Huddle” in Little Rock in September. Knight said his involvement in Rwanda began about five years ago when friends recruited him to take photos at Sonrise Academy, a boarding school in Rwanda. He had also been involved with a micro-finance operation that opened in Rwanda.
“What I knew before I went to Rwanda was that tremendous progress has been made in rebuilding the country. But, there is still great need,” he said.

Knight explained the three purposes of the journey to Rwanda:
• An educational experience for our group
• Indentifying internship opportunities for the Odyssey program
• Meeting with the Ministry of Education to finalize arrangements for four students to come to Hendrix for four years on full scholarship.

The travelers met all three goals, learning about Rwanda’s history, culture and people and identifying several opportunities for internships, including one working with President Kagame, and completing arrangements for four Rwandan students who are currently enrolled at Hendrix. “Our trip to Rwanda provided us an opportunity to see and understand how the rest of the world lives,” Knight said. “It allowed us to get involved with meaningful projects and let us see what one person can do.”

“It also gave us practical information on dealing with real and complex problems such as AIDS and poverty,” he added. “And it helped us develop a real personal perspective on our values and our role in life. I believe it helped us answer the question: What do you intend to do in the world and when do you expect to get started?”

“I feel fortunate to have been on this Odyssey and to have spent time with our students,” Knight said.
Dr. Whelan said he welcomed the opportunity to learn more about a country that he believes is misunderstood.

“I appreciated, as a scholar, the opportunity to be a student,” Dr. Whelan said. “The students who went with us were all different,” he added. “They had interests in law, medicine, environment, economics, and accounting. Their differences made the journey more interesting.”

For example, Hendrix senior Jacob Williams of Alma was most interested in the opportunity to learn more about microfinance in Rwanda. He was skeptical about the power of small loans to dramatically transform individual lives.
“But, I got to meet these people and see how their lives have been changed by $50,” Jacob said. “I met a sorghum wholesaler who grew her business from a $300 loan. There was a certain look of pride in her eyes – the look of success. That stuck with me,” he said. “I discovered that microfinance is real and it has a chance to do something real in the world.”
President Cloyd said the impact of the 1994 genocide, when more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered over 100 days, is seen all over Rwanda.
 
“The U.S. bears responsibility for not intervening when 10,000 a day were dying,” he said.  “We saw first-hand the cost of that non-intervention.”  “But amidst great tragedy, there is hope,” President Cloyd said. “Rwanda has problems, but the Rwandan people also have solutions.”

One solution for the Rwandan people is to help educate their young people. The Rwandan government is committed to improving schools across the nation and to helping young people study abroad and bring their knowledge back to Rwanda. The government is seeking help from colleges like Hendrix to provide higher education for its young people.

*"Rwanda: History, Geography, Government, and Culture." Infoplease.
© 2000–2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease.
25 Nov. 2007 <http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107926.html>.

Student participants included Ryan Burwinkle ’10 of Bellaire, Texas; Anna Bush ’10 of Hot Springs; Afton Cooper ’10 of Little Rock; Rachel DeCuir ’09 of Lafayette, La.; Mary Flanigan ’09 of Webster Groves, Mo.; Leah Horton ’09 of Austin, Texas; Amanda Keifer ’10 of Cookeville, Tenn..; Leslie Levy ’09 of Austin, Texas; Joe Muller ‘09 of Chesterfield, Mo.; Rosie Valdez ’10 of Little Rock; Jacob Williams ’08 of Alma; and Kelly Zalocusky ’09 of Belleville, Ill.

Their 14-day stay included visits to:
- Kigali Memorial Centre genocide museum
- Cornerstone Leadership Academy
- Kigali School of Finance and Banking
- Kigali Institute for Science and Technology
- Millenium Village and Access Health Care Project
- Living Water well drilling site
- Kigali International Community School
- Opportunity International micro finance bank
- Opportunity International Trust Bank meeting in Ruhengeri
- Sonrise School
- the local Heifer project
- Shyria Hospital
- Bigogwe refugee community
- Imbabzi Orphanage
- Lake Kivu
- the National Museum
- the National University and Medical School
- Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health Project
- a night performance by Intore, a traditional Rwandan dance troupe
- Parc Nacional de L’Akagera