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International Service-Learning: A Transformative Experience

A Transformative Experience
A Transformative Experience

From Angela Yang-Handy, Student Affairs: This past summer, Professor Therese Siebert taught a three-week course, SOC 390: Rwanda: Then and Now, which introduced students to Rwandan history, society, and culture through readings, discussion, and, most importantly, travel throughout Rwanda.

An important component of the course was a week-long workshop with the genocide prevention agency Never Again – Rwanda, which involved working with young Rwandan adults on issues of human rights, conflict resolution, and socioeconomic development. Service-learning activities were incorporated into this course, and Prof. Siebert described this experience in the narrative below:

The most rewarding and memorable events centered around our service activities, especially the ones that were completely unplanned. Toward the beginning of the trip, three students met a woman named Winnie Muvunyi, who, like her husband, was a minister in Kigali. Winnie founded and directs Alpha School, which is open to all young children in her neighborhood.

On a visit to her school, we played with the children, sang with them, and donated children’s books, toys, and supplies. Thanks to Roxanne Leclaire, mother of students Jeanette and Gillian, we obtained math textbooks that we donated to Butare Primary School along with school supplies.

Without question, the most touching and memorable part of the trip was our visit to the UN Refugee Camp based in Cyangugu, a town that borders Congo in the southwest part of Rwanda. Student Jesse Miller deserves credit for arranging this remarkable experience. Conditions at the camp are dismal, and we had already donated all of the books and supplies we had packed in our suitcases. But the UN director of the camp, Wes Wrightson, told us that simply taking the children out of the camp would mean so much to them. So up a mountain we went with a couple of hundred children, singing songs and clapping. None of us were the same after this hike.

After returning home, we raised $600 that we donated to various Rwandan causes by sponsoring a Rwandan dinner with music and dance. Students also educated participants about different aspects of Rwanda society with Power Point presentations. We are grateful to Beata and Immacule Umugwangwali, our Rwandan friends now living in New Hampshire, for their tremendous help in organizing this event. Months after our return, we remain committed to working with Rwandans to make education and health care more accessible.

If you are interested in learning more about the Keene State College Service-Learning Program, please visit the program’s website or e-mail Angela Yang-Handy, Service-Learning coordinator, at

Courtesy photo:
Therese Siebert and Rwanda students at the Alpha School

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