LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Aug. 8, 2008) – A group of Rwanda’s best and brightest students selected this spring by officials from Hendrix College and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock dispersed today to begin fall classes at colleges and universities in Arkansas.
The students are part of a plan by a consortium of five Arkansas colleges and a sixth in South Carolina to provide college educations to the 25 students. The schools are part of an effort to help restore Rwanda’s human capital after a civil war ravaged the country a decade ago.
The Arkansas institutions of higher learning have signed agreements with the new Rwandan government to provide college educations to the students. The genocide of the 1994 devastated the country’s pool of educated citizens. Now, leaders are working to educate students for jobs that require skills in math, science, engineering, information technology, and construction management.
Gov. Mike Beebe was on hand to welcome the young Rwandans as representatives of the colleges met the students at the State Capitol and prepared to take the students to their respective campuses.
“These students are an inspiration to all of us who know that education is the key to a better life,” Beebe said.
Ten of the students will attend UALR, six will go to Hendrix College in Conway, four will attend Harding University in Searcy, two to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, and one to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The two remaining students will attend Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
All of the students were enrolled this summer in UALR’s Intensive English Language Program directed by Dr. Alan Lytle to enhance their English skills. Each received a certificate of attendance during a ceremony today at the State Capitol.
During the 1990s, Rwanda experienced a bloody civil war including the 1994 systematic murder of members of the Tutsi minority and moderates of the Hutu majority. Over the course of about 100 days, at least 500,000 Tutsis and thousands of Hutus were killed during the genocide. The genocide wiped out the majority of Rwanda’s educated citizenry.
The effort to rebuild Rwanda’s devastated educated class is a chief mission of Bridge2Rwanda, a non-profit effort co-founded by former Stephens Inc. investment banker Dale Dawson.
“Arkansas educators were quick to step up to the plate,” said David Knight, the Chief Legal Counsel at Stephens Inc. who earlier this year accompanied Hendrix College President J. Timothy Cloyd, UALR Vice Chancellor Charles Donaldson and other school officials on a trip to Rwanda to discuss the partnership and interview prospective students.
The Arkansas program began last year when four Rwandan students enrolled at Hendrix College as first-year students. Cloyd credited Knight, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees who had been to Rwanda previously for mission trips, for encouraging Hendrix’s partnership with Rwanda.
“This program is life-changing not only for these young students but for the resilient citizens of Rwanda who will benefit from these future leaders,” Cloyd said. “The depth of the partnership between the diverse colleges in Arkansas who have joined to provide these educational opportunities is a testament to our collective desires to partner with a nation emerging from such tragedy. Similarly, President Kagame and his government are providing exceptional opportunities for college students from Arkansas.”
Students from participating schools in Arkansas will have the ability to study in Rwanda. Through the partnership, the Rwandan government is providing unique opportunities for American students to work directly within Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s administration through internships in his office and throughout various governmental ministries.
The government of Rwanda is providing much of the costs for the 25 students, who arrived in Arkansas in May and have been taking intensive classes in English as a second language at UALR.
“The students have acclimated quite well to campus life, living in UALR’s apartment-style residence halls,” Donaldson said. “Volunteers from the campus and community have been very generous to help them get settled. They have taken them shopping for necessities and included them in outings over the summer. Now, the students are itching for the semester to start and for their adventures to truly begin.”
Representatives from each institution were at the State Capitol to welcome their Rwandan students with caps, shirts, and other souvenirs from their new schools.
Beebe applauded the altruism of the educational institutions opening their doors for the Rwandans, but as an economic developer, he sees the possibility of a future payoff for Arkansas.
“Look at these students – they are the future decision-makers of their country, and it won’t be too long before they are in positions to do business with Arkansas companies,” Beebe said.
The consortium will grow larger next year when the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville joins to host 10 Rwandan students. Participating schools hope to increase the consortium in future years to expand the program.