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Rwanda Is Moving Forward: A Letter from the Program Director - Putney Student Travel

Putney’s program director for Community Service Rwanda recently traveled there to meet with friends and community partners. Trips like these enable us to continually improve our student travel programs year after year, to ensure that our travel is responsible, our service projects are community-driven, and our students get the opportunity to engage in meaningful cross-cultural experiences. Putney programs are built on relationships—relationships with peers, with program leaders, and with community members. Upon his return, Bob was excited to share his experience and discuss what moves him most about our community service trip to Rwanda and how inspiring the country’s progress is.

I was deeply moved by my visit to Rwanda and by meeting our partners there. Reading about Rwanda’s history is no substitute for being there and experiencing it, obviously, but it was still enormously meaningful. The effects of 1994 are everywhere: one sees very few people over 40, and everyone has been affected. I don’t have the emotional vocabulary to describe what the country has been through (who does?), and was speechless hearing survivors’ stories.

But I can share how Rwanda is moving ahead. There’s a real sense of positive energy, especially in Kigali, of young Rwandans starting exciting new things—art galleries, theatre troupes, bands, schools, charities. The amazing thing about Putney’s program there is how deeply they dive into this stuff, and how it all fits into the theme of “Public Health & Reconciliation.” My friends there say that almost everything the country is doing right now is moving them forward.

The highlights were meeting with our service partners, Foundation AVEH Umurerwa and the CECHE Foundation. Both organizations work to integrate Rwandan children with severe disabilities into society, and are run by devoted and patriotic Rwandans. Putney has been working with AVEH for many years, but our relationship with CECHE is new—its director, Joseph, recently completed an advanced degree in Israel and returned home to oversee CECHE full-time. Our community service students work at CECHE to build functional chairs out of recycled cardboard for specific children. The chairs improve posture and muscle formation, and also help parents feed them more easily. A child who may not have been able to go to school because there was no suitable place for her to sit can now go to classes with her chair.

At AVEH, students collaborate on construction projects and spend time with the kids. It was a joy to see the new kitchen that last year’s Putney group helped build. Before that, AVEH was cooking on the ground over a fire.

Another important partner in Kigali is the Akilah Institute, started by Putney alum Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes (we recently interviewed Elizabeth). Akilah is an innovative women’s school with an incredible campus in the city.

Students on Community Service Rwanda also visit the new Butaro campus of UGHE, the University for Global Health Equity. It is currently under construction and humming with excitement. The lead engineer took me on a tour. It’s an incredible place that will train the next generation of physicians, nurses, and public health professionals. The campus is on a hill opposite Partners in Health’s hospital, which the students also visit. We’re extremely lucky to get to visit their hospital, which is the jewel of rural health delivery in Rwanda. Cancer patients get referred here from the main hospital in the capital, which is amazing.

I was touched to hear that each of our partners remembers 2018’s Putney students fondly, and many are still in touch.

This program is really special. I’m grateful to get to share it with students.

— Bob, Putney program director