President Dennis Hanno, a world traveler and adventure-seeker, has been leading trips to Africa since 2001 and trips to Rwanda since 2008; however, winter break marked his first time visiting a country alongside Wheaton students. Fourteen students traveled with President Hanno to Rwanda to teach Rwandan students the entrepreneurial skills they need to become successful leaders in their communities.
This small, but dedicated group of Wheaton students divided its time between two Rwandan schools. One was a Rwandan high school known as Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village where Wheaton participants spent a day conducting a seminar with senior students. Wheaton students then spent a week with students at the Catholic University of Rwanda. Each Wheaton student worked with a few Rwandan students to help them develop advanced problem solving and entrepreneurial skills. Specifically, the program was created to help students identify needs in their community and come up with creative plans to accommodate these needs. By the end of the week, the Rwandan students were presenting their ideas and business plans to the whole group in a friendly competition.
It was President Hanno’s hope that the program would allow Rwandan students to realize their potential to foster change within their communities and society at large. “We want to help the students realize that they can solve problems within their community,” he says, “and help them become more entrepreneurial and innovative in their focus”.
Courtney Gilman ’15 was inspired by her students’ progress after just one week of working with them. She was particularly gratified when one female student, who was initially very quiet and reserved, came out of her shell and won the prize for the best business plan. “It was a very powerful moment for me,” she says.
Rwanda has a dark history of genocide that continues to plague the nation both socially and economically. But for a country with such a tragic past, President Hanno and students agree that Rwandans are remarkable people who are determined to build a better future with more opportunities for all of its citizens. “I was very impressed to see the passion the students had for education and the future only one generation after genocide” said Junfei John Yu ’18. Gilman describes the genocide as “something that’s always there, you can’t miss it”. But despite this she observes, “They’re healing, slowly but surely. And that’s something very beautiful.”
Categories: Arts and Culture