Berks students celebrate Independence Day in Rwanda

July 08, 2008

Ten Penn State Berks students embarked on a three-week-long internship in Rwanda on July 4. The students will be working and living at Kabuga, a school established to provide education for homeless children and young adults. 

Randal Fegley, co-coordinator of the Global Studies degree program and assistant professor of history and politics at Penn State Berks, established the internship program in 2006. This year, the students will be working three 50-hour weeks at Kabuga.

According to Fegley, most Africans must pay school fees, which take a huge chunk of the family's income. Kabuga offers a unique alternative where a foster family can provide food and shelter for a homeless child; in return, that child and the family’s natural children can attend Kabuga free of charge.

Kabuga currently teaches preschool through second graders, as well as young adults, but it plans to add another grade to the curriculum each year. The school's goal is to provide students with necessary education and at least one skill they can master with their hands.

"There are so many children adrift that it makes a lot of sense. 170,000 people are without homes in Rwanda," commented Fegley. "The mission of the Berks students is to fill in the gaps where the school is lacking."

In 2006, a group of Berks students who participated in the Rwanda internship program established a soccer program. This year, the students are planning to teach the Rwandans volleyball.

In addition to teaching a team sport, the Berks students will be teaching jewelry making, knitting, and other crafts. The students took plenty of supplies so the Kabuga students can continue to use their new skills to make money for the school.

"These skills are important to teach the kids, but perhaps most important, is to act as a befriender: to share life together, to work in the fields together, and to learn each other’s languages," explained Fegley. "To have someone from the other side of the world connect with them is so valuable. Nearly everyone in Rwanda is so emotionally traumatized." 

Most of the students at Kabuga are female; the majority of the males in Rwanda were the victims of genocide.

The Berks students will have the opportunity to see nearly all of Rwanda due to the country’s small size -- 26,338 square kilometers, a little smaller than the state of Maryland. They will visit genocide sites and memorials.

Megan Rudy, a communication arts and sciences major and global studies minor, is one of the Berks students traveling to Rwanda this month. She commented, "It’s kind of hard to fathom -- 800,000 people murdered in 100 days. When I'm there and see the skeletons I think it will be different. I'm an emotional person, so being there will probably be an emotional experience for me."

Said Fegley, "The students go away with a changed view of the world. They see things in a much more complex way. I’ve had some of the students from the Rwanda trip later on in classes and I noticed that their willingness to explore gray areas greatly increased."

Many of the students in the Global Studies major go on to work in various agencies involved in humanitarian efforts, and this was a motivating factor for Fegley when he began planning the internship.

"I wanted these students to go and see something done right because so much isn’t," he said. "Kabuga is something that is done right, and something they can remember as they go into these agencies."

Along with the internship, the students take a related political science course, Ethnic Content in Africa. They will be making documentary film shorts about Rwanda for additional credits. These films will be shown on the Berks campus when the students return in the fall and will also be applied to classroom use. Additionally, these films will be used in Rwanda to promote Kabuga.

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Lisa Weidman

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Last Updated March 19, 2009