The service-learning lessons from Rwanda that have enriched so many Westminster College students’ lives over the past few years continued this summer when recently retired Westminster faculty member Bob Hansen traveled with a group of students to Rwanda and Tanzania.
This group, which spent May 31-June 19 in Rwanda and Tanzania included: Dr. Hansen; Amanda Stevens, Westminster Assistant Professor of Exercise Science; Erin Perry, ‘17, from Jefferson City, MO; Eva Ottinger, ’18, from Columbia, MO; McKenna Peters, ’19, from Quincy, IL; Madison Rybak, ’19, from Dardenne Prairie, MO; Hannah Proffitt-Allee, ’12 and former Westminster Fellow for Community Engagement from Springfield, MO.
Five others rounded out the team, including Hannah’s husband Elim Proffitt-Allee; Hannah’s mother Sandy Minchow-Proffitt, M.D.; and Dr. Hansen’s son-in-law Brady Didion, M.D. along with three St. Louis educators.
“It’s so cool when you make a connection with someone who lives so differently than you and it is amazing how much you have in common,” McKenna Peters wrote while there. “Making connections and having genuine conversations with people here is my favorite part of this journey. It’s the small unexpected things that make me believe Africa will give more to me than I could ever give to them.”
The team spent ten days in Rwanda where they monitored ongoing Humanity for Children (HFC) projects in remote villages and explored new ones. Two days were spent solidifying the school-to-school partnership between Lutheran High School South (St. Louis) and Rwamagana Lutheran Secondary School. This included delivering computers, iPads, textbooks and school uniforms.
Understanding the Rwanda Genocide of 1994 became a critical step in appreciating Rwanda history and culture. The team visited the National Genocide Memorial before they went to the Nyamata Catholic Church where 10,000 people were killed within 24 hours.
On Sunday, June 5th, the team split up to visit its two church-to-church partners: the Presbyterian Church of Kibungo (partnered with 1st Presbyterian Church of Fulton) and the Kibungo Lutheran Church (partnered with Bethel Lutheran Church of St. Louis). Each service included multiple choirs and lasted three hours.
During the first week, Westminster pre-medicine students observed surgeries at the Kibungo Hospital where they were surprised to find two surgery patients being treated simultaneously in the same operating room.
The second phase of the trip took place in Northern Tanzania where the team’s mission was to spend ten days testing a new model designed to reduce mother and newborn mortality. A medical team joined their group during that segment and they helped two clinics improve birthing techniques by introducing safe birthing kits and training midwives in more advanced obstetric procedures. The Westminster group was immersed in the local cultures of these remote villages, sharing meals and overnighting in the communities.
To celebrate their successful three weeks of work, the team went on a safari at the Ngorongoro National Park where they observed and photographed lions, elephants, zebras, warthogs, orangutans, hippos, and other African wildlife.
Team leader, Dr. Bob Hansen, summarized the trip by saying, “We had a great group that worked very hard under challenging conditions. Not having electricity or reliable clean water, eating foods foreign to American cuisine, and traveling long distances by safari vehicles pushed our team members past their comfort zones. I was proud of the way they served humbly and shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners. This experience should help them connect theory with practice as they continue their education.”
Dr. Hansen has been taking groups of students to East Africa since 2008 in coordination with the nonprofit organization Humanity for Children. This marks his ninth trip. On his first visit to Kibungo, Rwanda, Dr. Hansen brought back information about the critical need for a children and mother’s health clinic there. The City of Fulton and Callaway County officials voted to initiative a partnership and raised the funds to build the health clinic. Today the partnership is involved in activities that focus on access to health care and education but also include economic empowerment projects through micro-loans, school partnerships, and livestock initiatives.