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Avila Fulbright Scholar Reflections

July 3

Fulbright Scholars are on their way to Rwanda.

On the way to Rwanda, we find a Starbucks in Amsterdam and get invited to a wedding!

July 4

Made it safely to Kigali. As the morning mist clears, I'm ready to meet and learn from the people here who have already been so welcoming. Here's to the first day in Rwanda!

Lots of lights! Lots of shoes! Night one in our hotel!

July 5

Yesterday we visited Hotel Des Millie Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda). As I sat drinking coffee and taking in the beautiful senerary, the weight of the genocide began to become more noticeable. This is the first time on the trip that the country's history became real to me. In the states it is so easy to seperate and compartmentalized the pain of the world from my daily life, but now that is now longer an option. I must face the darkness in hopes of understanding the tremendous progress Rwanda has made. #fulbright #rwandastrong

Contemporary art on display at the des Mille Collines, hotel where Rwandans took refuge in '94.

A lovely setting to review and discuss documents.

Enjoying the view and doing some research.

The two undergrads are ready to take on day 1 in Rwanda with open hearts and open minds.

Busy, beautiful city of Kigali, Rwanda

July 6

The Breakfast Club in Nyamata at the Golden Tulip La Palisse Kigali.


I sat at a comfortable distance for months, reading, viewing, listening and learning about this country and culture, and more specifically their painful past of discrimination, corruption, and violence. Today that changed. Today I heard from people whom lost loved ones in the genocide. Today I saw churches with blasted holes in the brick walls from grenades where women, children and disabled lost their lives. Today I saw coffins with thousands of skulls and bones, many never having been identified. Today I saw the very clothes of the victims piled on pews. Today I saw the machetes used to kill innocent lives. Today I felt overwhelmed. I struggle to make sense of the horrific happenings of this beautiful place.. Today I am reminded that Satan indeed lives among us, but thankful that our God does, too.

"Light of Hope"

Images from a powerful visit to the Genocide Memorial sites in Nyamata & Ntarama. Gardens at one of the memorial sites

July 7

Sunrise rise over Lake Kivu.
-Kimberly Sonnich Hillstock, July 7, 2017

Gardens at the National Genocide Memorial.
-Kimberly Sonnich Hillstock, July 7, 2017

July 8

Living the Lake Kivu life this morning.
-Brooke Kueser VanHecke, July 8, 2017

Within the Kigali Genocide Memorial, there is a room devoted to the children lost through the genocide. When entering the Children's Room, a plaque states "Children, you might have been our national heroes." What we have seen from the survivors is that they have become the national heroes who are entrusted to bear witness for their families, friends, and neighbors. The resilience and dedication of those we have met is inspiring beyond words.
-Brooke Kueser VanHecke, July 8, 2017

Good Morning from Lake Kivu.
-Madison Mueth, July 8, 2017

I am quickly falling in love with this country.
-Kristin May, July 8, 2017

Portraits of the brave heroes that saved many lives during the genocide.
-Kristin May, July 8, 2017

July 9

We had quite the day in Rwanda! Boat rides on Lake Kivu to memorial sites, hiking up mountains, and seeing more of the beautiful Rwandan landscape was the start to our day. Our midday excitement was a road block lasting about two hours. We didn't complain, for we got to play with the children from a local village all afternoon. We finally made it to Giseyni where we had a wonderful meal with our hosts Simone Pierre and Caritas.
-Brooke Kueser VanHecke, July 9, 2017


July 10

Student artwork at Nyundo Genocide Memorial that depicts the darkness of the past and the light of the future.

Road blocked. No problem. No road rage. Let's play soccer and then sing and dance. -Kimberly Sonnich Hillstock, July 10, 2017

I used to think the two most powerful two-word phrases were I am sorry and Thank you. But the words on this genocide memorial are the most important and powerful of all: NEVER AGAIN.
-Kimberly Sonnich Hillstock, July 10, 2017

July 11

Visited the Early Childhood development center here in Giseyni today. This facility provides affordable child care and schooling for about 60 marginalized children in the area- ranging from 2-5 years old. We had the opportunity to dialogue with the mothers and fathers whose children are able to have this opportunity. Another amazing center serving the Ribavu district of Giseyni.

-Brooke Kueser VanHecke, July 11, 2017


July 12

We were so excited to visit the Ndengera Vocational Center today. Around 80 students train in auto-mechanics and tailoring, and are exposed to much more business opportunity post-completion of their certificate. Basically - a teachers dream facility to visit.
-Brooke Kueser VanHecke, July 12, 2017


July 14

No idea where we would be without our fearless leader.

An impromptu invitation from a stranger brought us to a Giseyni community event hosted by the Future Vision Acrobat group. This group was founded in 2005 by Elisee Niyonsenga, a young boy living on the streets who found acrobatics and dance as a way to spread love, laughter, and passion to more vulnerable children in his community.

Dialogued with students studying in local Giseyni schools today. We had such meaningful and exciting conversations with the students, and loved visiting with the future leaders of Rwanda.

Visiting with high school students to talk about their hopes and dreams.

July 17

Taking inspiration from the Ubumwe Community Center today - this is the only center helping to shape the future of special education services in the Rubavu district of Rwanda. Started by two friends who saw that "disability does not mean inability", the center has grown to provide services for many individuals with mental and physical disabilities previously marginalized in their community. We were amazed at the work this facility and staff do for all learners, regardless of age and need. It was incredible to see how the conversations and attitudes toward inclusive education are making headway here in Rwanda.

July 18


Enjoyed learning more about two sub-topics regarding the genocide this week. Brett and Kristin A. discussed the impact surrounding words of inaction and action before, during, and after the genocide, while Maddie and Mackenzie informed us of women's roles throughout Rwandan history.

Visited Rwandan public school classrooms today. Teachers say that class sizes for high school students range from 40-60 students in rooms about this size. May or may not have asked the teachers to give us some serious classroom management tips. How amazing the education initiatives to provide public education for all Rwandan students.

July 19

We had a great time meeting with university students in Giseyni today. We chatted with Rwandan, Congolese, and Burundi students looking to create more jobs through entrepreneurship in their respective home countries, and we loved connecting with future economy leaders!

As the teachers become the students.......or should I say "wanafunzi". Swahili lessons left us all a little tired, a little overwhelmed, and a little smarter.

July 20

One thing we have learned in Rwanda is to always expect the unexpected. Some of my favorite memories in this country have stemmed from happenstance situations that we would not have been able to plan for. One such moment was having the opportunity to talk with individuals whose parents were involved in the 1994 genocide. We were able to hear the stories of those whose parents were killers and thieves, orchestrators and bystanders. This opportunity does not come to many, and it was incredible to hear the stories of forgiveness and unity these children of the genocide dedicate their lives to. This picture was taken a few days ago, but the meaning resonates today when reflecting on the amazing testimonies and stories we have heard throughout our trip thus far.

At the border of Rwanda and the DRC! This is one of the busiest borders in Rwanda, with almost 45,000 people traveling back and forth each day.

July 21

We learned all about the African New Life organization today, and visited some of the schools that are benefiting local Rwandan children through educational opportunities and leadership studies. These kids had some pretty solid handshakes and conversation starters.


When you travel to Africa only to be gently reminded by your very own textbooks that the school year is quickly approaching. 

July 22

I thought this simple sign pretty much summed up our agenda here in Rwanda. Sharing and exchanging knowledge about culture, history, educational models and hearing testimonies from all sorts of individuals. I have learned so much from these people. Their capacity to overcome such tragic events and turn to peace & reconciliation instead of revenge & retaliation has been incredible. Hearts are healing everyday. Rwandan teachers were anxious to meet with U.S. teachers to glean new information, but I would argue what we were able to share with them is minuscule compared to what they and their communities have taught us I love this country.

Today we visited the previous Rwandan president Habyarimana's mansion estate that has now been constructed as a public museum. This was the home that Habyarimana and his family lived in before his plane was shot down- the culminating event that insighted the genocide in 1994. Walking throughout the property, we were able to see the few bits of furniture and artwork not looted by thieves during the genocide, the beautiful landscaping that is still in tact, and quite interestingly according to our guide, remnants of his plane that happened to fall not 100 yards from his home.

July 23

A shout-out to Dr. Garber-Miller & Dr. Miller! We are blessed to learn from them each day...they are models of compassionate leadership.

We have been to many memorial sites for victims of the Rwandan genocide, but the memorial for 10 Belgium soldiers who lost their lives in the early days of the genocide was a stark reminder that the genocide was not simply an "African problem" as many countries saw it during its time span. Part of our experience and research has shown us how foreign aid and foreign recognition of the genocide was virtually non-existent, and this lack of response allowed more atrocities to be committed, and more lives to be lost or shattered. This memorial to Belgium soldiers was dedicated to not only the men that were killed by Hutu extremists, but also showed the impact of genocides throughout the world. This memorial spoke to the importance of eradicating hate and discrimination towards people simply because of their religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. One quote within the memorial states "It is a crime against humanity to be accused of being born." Some major lessons to take back to our own communities, schools, family, and friends when we return to the US in a few days.

July 24

Exploring the Ivuka and Inema art galleries in Kigali today was a perfect follow up after learning about art therapy and its influence in Rwanda. Special topic presented by our lovely art experts Kristin O. and Lauren B.

July 26

We successfully made it through our safari! The day was full of magical elephants, hilariously adorable warthogs, photogenic giraffes, black on white, or white on black zebras (debate still open), creepy crocodiles, hungry hungry hippos, troops of baboons, and countless other little animal friends. Akagera- you did not disappoint!

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