Reinventing education to make it fun, life-changing — and leaving indelible lessons.
GUEST COLUMN | by Alline Kabbatende
Every individual can point to a handful of experiences that transformed their lives, or touched them so deeply they are never the same again. I remember the 2004 Rwanda Alive Global Nomads Group interactive video conference (IVC) series like it was last week. For me, Rwanda Alive was one of those experiences. It was one of the few highlights of my pubescent and high school life, and the mark it made has never left me.
Rwanda Alive was a series of IVCs between high school students from two schools in Rwanda, and four schools from Ohio, Kansas, Georgia and Texas. For each call, we took a bus from our school, FAWE Girls’ School, to the World Bank Rwanda Country offices to use their video-con facilities. The grainy video images and the time lag in voice reception deterred neither the Rwandan nor the American students. Over a series of video calls, we shared our history, our culture, the beauty of our country and our aspirations, and as we opened up about our country to our new friends, we learned tons about America.
Education comes alive when a student, hungry for knowledge, hungry to see and know the world around them, is given a chance to connect with students outside their immediate world.
I am not sure how much video call technology has improved – as I have hardly used it since – but I am sure that given the increased bandwidth, data speed, reduced cost of voice, data technologies and the growing number of connected persons around the world, schools have fewer excuses not to expose their students to programs akin to the Rwanda Alive series.
Education comes alive when a student, hungry for knowledge, hungry to see and know the world around them, is given a chance to connect with students outside their immediate world. No book, no atlas, could have prepared me for the kind of understanding and perspective that I gained from the students in Dayton, Ohio, Maize, Kansas or Atlanta, Georgia.
Likewise, I am sure the students in the US would never have confronted the stereotypes perpetuated about Africa in Western media if they were never given a chance to hear our story from African peers: to understand the roots of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, to see the consequences of hatred drawn along ethnic lines, to see how a country is rebuilding itself in the aftermath, and to learn that we share common interests and common dreams, and that across border lines and continent, we are really the same.
I can never forget the American student who confessed that he thought that Africans lived in trees and was pleasantly surprised to see how far from the truth the situation is. In the same spirit, I was surprised to learn that not all of America looks like New York City and lives like a TV celebrity. Students from both sides of the ocean got the opportunity to radically change their global perspectives.
I can also never forget the way students from Stivers High School, Ohio, pooled resources to send clothes to orphans in Rwanda after the IVCs were done. By chatting with students from across the world, these students were given a window to identify and seize a constructive way to make a difference in this world.
In a rapidly shrinking world, powered by globalization, it is imperative that seeing and knowing the world ceases to be a luxury for those who can afford to travel. By pioneering IVCs, Global Nomads Group (GNG) set a precedent for what should become part and parcel of school curricula worldwide.
As a young Rwandan hungry to explore the world, GNG facilitated me to put one foot out and see America, to connect with American teenagers like myself that 10 years later, I continue to keep in touch with. I have since traveled to a number of countries but that experience in 2004 shaped the way I saw the world and myself in the world. It prepared me to be an ambassador for my country and put the lenses to my eyes that help me appreciate and celebrate the differences in culture wherever I go. In a world bleeding from war and conflict ignited by cultural, religious and tribal differences, GNG’s educational programs (and many more to come), will play a role in tempering these hateful outlooks.
In early April this year, 10 of the participants of Rwanda Alive 2004 reunited in New York City. It was the first time that participants from Rwanda and the US met in person. Unsurprisingly, the group immediately bonded and it was refreshing to see where everyone was in life, and to share the ways in which our worldview was changed by the 2004 videoconferences.
No words can adequately package the transformation and connection that I and my colleagues from Rwanda Alive 2004 experienced, but we hope that more resources can go towards changing the lives of millions of other students worldwide by giving them a chance to connect and reinvent their worldviews.
Heartfelt gratitude to Global Nomads Group and all their partners for making Rwanda Alive happen!