Project Rwanda honors anniversary
Lasting 100 days, from April 7 to mid-July 1994, and claiming nearly one million lives, the Rwandan Genocide still pervades people’s memories. The event marked its 21st anniversary this past Tuesday. A conflict between two groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, the genocide marred the country in many ways for years to come. Students at Carnegie Mellon donned silver and gray ribbons in memoriam of those who lost their lives, a tradition that lasts a week in Rwanda each year. Carnegie Mellon’s student group Project Rwanda organized the day’s event.
Project Rwanda started in 2010 with help from Assistant Director of Student Affairs M. Shernell Smith and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Renee Camerlengo.
It is a “student guided initiative,” according to its project narrative, and remains one of Carnegie Mellon’s only philanthropic initiatives in Africa. The overall goal of the project is to help Rwanda strive for a more knowledge-based economy: a goal relevant to Carnegie Mellon’s campus in Kigali, Rwanda.
As the connection between Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus and Carnegie Mellon’s Rwanda graduate campus grows, the prevalence of Project Rwanda’s initiative continues to grow as well.
Junior computer science major Ben Plaut chose to place the ribbon on his backpack. “It is great that the organization is spreading awareness about this, because there are so many things that students at Carnegie Mellon aren’t aware of,” Plaut said.
Awareness is exactly the goal of this initiative, and not just awareness for the atrocious event 21 years past, but the current thriving nation of Rwanda. Second-year master’s candidates Josephine Mukesha, a Rwandan native, and Ivy Wainaina, a Kenyan native, found the Project Rwanda organization important for the Carnegie Mellon campus. “If you don’t talk about it, then you aren’t giving values to the one million lives that were lost,” Mukesha said on the importance of discussion in memoriam.
The ribbon project acts as a first step in learning about Rwanda’s genocide and post-genocide reconstruction. “It happened 21 years ago. So much has happened after that: Rwanda is working to rebuild the country, and some outside people are still in the mindset that it happened yesterday,” Mukesha said.
Rwanda now leads most African countries in innovation and education. “If you go to Kigali now, it looks nothing like what the videos would show you of genocide. It has good infrastructure, LTE, free laptops for children. If you think of innovation in Africa, you should think Rwanda,” Wainania said.
Many problems still exist in and around Carnegie Mellon Rwanda’s Kigali campus, providing a unique problem-solving opportunity for Pittsburgh students. “The Rwandan campus can show the challenges that CMU students don’t necessarily face. Africa is such a big market, and can give another perspective. So students can think of a problem from a different perspective, or see problems that you don’t have here. So it gives students a global view, too,” Mukesha said, marking the importance of intercampus connectivity.
Africa is modernizing itself, and Rwanda is no exception. “Africa is such a big market, and can give another perspective. So students can think of a problem from a different perspective, or see problems that you don’t have here. So it gives students a global view, too,” Mukesha said.
Mukesha emphasized that in many Rwandan urban areas, technology is just as present and up to date as in the U.S., contrary to what some students may think.
“It’s interesting to see some technological things that seem new here in the United States, but then to realize that we’ve had it for a long time. Take, for instance, paying money with your phone. That has been around in Rwanda for what feels like forever,” Wainania said.
All these ideas for campus connection and understanding show the true idea behind Project Rwanda: People are all people, and they should not be afraid to talk to each other and learn from others’ experiences.
“Some people were in a family of twenty, and now it is just them. If you don’t talk to those people, if you don’t give them empathy for their pain, you can’t go forward. To move forward, you need to remember the past, and you need to remember the pain to the point where it should never happen again,” Mukesha said, a message very common about genocide, yet very often overlooked.