In 1994, as many as 800,000 men, women and children lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide—a tragedy rooted in discrimination and fear. By making a conscious choice to promote a community based in kindness and forgiveness, genocide survivors are healing the city of Kigali, and having a lifelong impact on the lives of Wake Forest students.
In partnership with We Share, seven Wake Forest students and two Winston-Salem State students spent two weeks working with young people in local schools and orphanages in Kigali. During the inaugural service trip, they visited reconciliation sites including the Children’s Hall of the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center.
While sophomore Harsh Patolia was listening to testimonies from victims of the genocide in the heart of Reconciliation Village, he learned that the man sitting next to him was a murderer. Frederick, a genocide perpetrator, discussed how the power of forgiveness helped to foster a newfound community of brotherhood.
“How could this have been possible? How could murderers and survivors coexist? These perpetrators were begging for peace, not only with the victims and their families, but within themselves,” said Patolia. “The people here are living proof that there is nothing stronger than the power of forgiveness.”
Marianna Magjuka, director of campus life and staff leader abroad, said that one of the goals of the service trip was to give students a chance to see the world through a different lens.
“The trip not only allowed students to play a valuable role in the country’s recovery through service, but also to confront universal questions about community, connection and the idea of reconciliation,” says Magjuka.
To broaden their reach, the students were also given the opportunity to collaborate with the Nyanya Project. The program, created by Wake Forest University faculty member Mary Martin Niepold, teaches grandmothers raising their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS to become economically self-reliant.
Though this was the first international service trip to Rwanda, Wake Forest’s Volunteer Service Corps is well-known for establishing long-term relationships with service partners worldwide. Wake Forest students have ongoing service relationships in India, Russia and Vietnam.
“Part of what makes our service trips meaningful is we don’t just visit once and never go back,” says Magjuka. “Our partners look forward to seeing us year-after-year. We are committed.”