Student Reflections
2011 Tufts University Trip to Rwanda


For the second year, Institute for World Justice and Beacon Grille were pleased to sponsor an interfaith group of Tufts University students on a service learning trip, which for many, was life-changing.


The 20 students departed on May 25, 2011 for Rwanda, where they stayed and volunteered at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a community that provides orphaned children a safe and secure living environment, health care, education, and necessary life skills. Eleven days later, the students returned home with a much greater understanding of the horrors of genocide, but also of the power of service to others.

See below for excerpts from some of the moving letters students wrote following their return home. Additional insights from their experiences are available on the Tufts in Rwanda blog, which the students maintained throughout their journey.


"Clearly, this trip has been a monumental experience in my life. At the end of the day however, I think what is important is not how ASYV has impacted me, but how I can impact and give back to ASYV. I look forward to being an ambassador for the Village, raising money so that more kids in Rwanda can go to ASYV, and sharing my experiences with others. . .

"This trip also confirmed my desire to work for - or possibly start - a non profit organization in the future so that I can help people the way that ASYV is helping hundreds of students at this very moment."

Sarah Olstein, ´14



"This trip has been the single most inspiring experience of my life and it really inspired me to pursue more research and opportunities in genocide prevention and really reaffirmed my aspiration to be involved with international politics."

Kevin C. Luo, ´13



"I truly am forever changed from this trip. Many of the kids we worked with had no family, yet they were optimistic, friendly, determined, and hard working.

"Throughout my time there, I found it very difficult to connect the village to the genocide. The students seemed so happy and lively that I often forgot what they had gone through, and are still going through. Additionally, the poverty around the village greatly moved me.

"More importantly, however, was the impact we had on the students living in the village. A major component of the trip was that we bring a piece of the world to the students living at ASYV. We discussed politics, music, Hollywood, university, and international issues. Individually, we tutored the students in English. Their progress in the subject was amazing to watch and be a part of! We also formed close bonds with individual students, who I know we will keep in touch with in the years to come. I have never really traveled outside the US before, and I was shocked to see the conditions in which so many other people live. This mostly affected me after returning to the US.

"On my way home from Boston my parents and I stopped for a quick lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. I was in awe of a place that I had usually never looked at twice. I was also somewhat disgusted at the number of options and portion sizes. This trip has changed my perspective in a way that I never could have imagined."

Lauren Krouskoff, '14



"Before embarking on our journey, my professional/academic interests did not necessarily lie in the development of Africa, but now my perspective has changed. I now have a personal connection and vested interest in working for Africa in my future.

"As an international relations and child development major, it was very interesting to observe first hand, how some children in Rwanda lived, and to see how successfully ASYV functions. To me, ASYV is evidence that such ambitions to help people in developing countries is possible. I will forever remember ASYV, and hopefully one day start a similar village myself. Thank you again for investing in students like us. Not only have you affected the students at Tufts, but you have also affected the world."

Kia R. Widlo, '12



"During the first conversation I had back at home, I realized just how much I learned in Rwanda. I have already begun to share with friends and family the knowledge and personal perspective I have gained. I hope that I can contribute to an understanding of and empathy for others that will help prevent events like the genocide from being allowed to happen again."

Janet Rubin, ´14



"It was only after visiting the genocide memorial that I started to realize how truly amazing it was that the kids got up everyday and were optimistic and ready to learn.

"At the Kigali Memorial, I was heartbroken, confused, frustrated, and angry that the world would sit idly by as millions of people were killed. But what struck me even more was that, despite this horror, the kids at the School still wanted to move forward in life so that they could be successful and assist others."

Kara Lillehaug, ´14



"The Village is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, not only because of the hills and sky, but because of the people who reside there. It is so inspiring to see how joyful and happy the students are. They have hope for the future, and it is all because of the work that the Village does.

"The most influential person I met though, was Wilton, who is the principal of the school at ASYV. He shared his story with us when he traveled to the memorial at Murambi and said he felt very comforted by the fact that we were there with him. Wilton is an inspiration to me to live everyday to the fullest and to continue to fight for justice in this world. This trip has made me realize that it takes people like Wilton and the staff at ASYV to foster hope for the future."

Jennifer Smith, '14



"The students at the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village are at once both symbols of how much progress Rwanda has made since the very recent atrocities of the genocide, and also the amount of work that still remains to be done. The kids that we met have come from lives which are difficult in a way we cannot possibly fully comprehend. I heard stories about parents killed in front of their children's eyes, prostitution rings, and homelessness. But with all of that still very recent in their lives the kids were incredibly caring, loving, and open with us and with each other.

"Considering that many of the adults we met still harbor so much anger and resentment (and who can blame them?) it was very relieving to see that the next generation of Rwandans have the chance to live lives with memory of the genocide and its legacy, but not its spirit of division. I ate lunch with Hutus and Tutsis together, and there was no division that I could see.

"The hard part about ASYV and our trip there is seeing the life outside of its walls. I had never before seen poverty of that kind, and that is what life is like for most Rwandans. The 500 students who attend Agahozo Shalom have received an incredible opportunity that each of them deserved, but there are so many more children and adults in Rwanda, in Africa, and in the world who have not been as lucky. This is why each and every person with whom I traveled to Agahozo Shalom will be dedicating themselves in whatever ways they can to creating opportunities for all of the people in the world who deserve them. And all of the change that we create (and I know we will) is a direct image to your generosity. So thank you again from the bottom of my heard. I will never be the same."

Daniel Katz-Zeiger, '14



"Listening to individuals share their stories gave me a glimpse into the pain they have endured and Rwandan's incredible strength to embrace reconciliation and redevelopment. One thing I didn't expect was how exceptionally nice the kids were to each other and how motivated each was to pursue a life of service. Clearly, the wonderful community of ASYV has helped them heal, and is helping them establish a future.

"I am excited to share my experiences with others so that they can understand the power of individuals to make incredible positive changes. I plan on continuing to support the Village both through our newly forming group for Rwanda and ASYV on campus and by promoting the values of ASYV in my work for community development in rural areas throughout my lifetime."

Laura Corlin, '13



"I can say without hesitation that it was the most memorable and rewarding experience in my life.

"Every single day, I was amazed by the students at the Village. Their resiliency and willpower in the face of horrific events and circumstances was inspiring. The Village and the Village staff provide them with so many great opportunities. All of which the students seem to be so grateful. I was also extremely impressed by how focused the students were on their studies. Each and every one of them has the talent to become one of the world's next great scientists or business leaders, and I feel so lucky that I was able to meet them and make a deep connection that will last forever.

"After visiting Rwanda, it's hard for me to image the country in the midst of genocide. All I could think about while there was how beautiful the country is - not just the landscape - but the people. I am glad, though, that our group learned more about the genocide by visiting museums and memorials and having our own group discussions. I will continue to learn more about the genocide this summer by reading many books, and I will do my best to ensure that genocide never happens again anywhere."

Laina Piera, ´14



"Holistically, my experience was a lesson in the basic human capacity to forgive, persevere, and to come together. These are lessons I will be proud to carry with me in all my future ventures, in hopes to positively impact the people in my life, just as my new Rwandan friends have impacted mine.


"One experience I would like to share with you is when I participated in the village's weekly "Tikkun Olam." I joined a group of students in their project building a mud house in the rural area surrounding the Village. After several hours of constructing a wall for an extremely poor family, one of the students dragged me into a room of the house where he introduced me to the mother of the household, a sickly middle-aged woman lying on the dirt floor in obvious discomfort. The student informed her of the progress we had made on the house (in their native Kinyarwanda), and a faint smile came across the woman's face. Walking back to the Village, the student told me, "David, this was my favorite part of the week. It is very important, and I'm happy that we helped that woman.

"The notion that this Rwandan student, who for once in his life has been given the opportunity to create his own future, values helping others above anything else was astounding. Hearing these words from my new friend made the mission of the Village come alive for me. It was a truly humbling experience.

"As shown by this student's set of values, the Village is rebuilding the basic foundation of human interaction - trust, friendship, respect, and event the duty to help others - that was so viciously torn down by the genocide only 17 years ago. This was only one of many experiences that made me confident that these students will go on to be amazing leaders in their communities.

"One of our text based discussions focused on how to give. We discussed and debated the value of giving one's time versus one's money, and to which types of causes. These provocative discussions made me think, is the significant cost of our short-term trip worth it? Could the money have been better used directly donated to the Village instead of for a group of visitors? Are there other causes more worthy of the help?

"In Rwanda, I came to an answer to these questions. Nothing in this world can replace the first-hand experience I had at the Village, if and only if I utilize the experience as inspiration to do acts of good in the future. As such, this experience has motivated me to answer the call to service, whether it be for the Village, Rwanda, or for others in need around the world. Your incredible act of good shall not be in vain, as I hereby pledge to devote myself to utilize my experience in Rwanda for good."

David Reiff, ´13


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