Educators and officials from southern colleges and universities met at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock on Thursday to discuss ways to improve or expand a project stemming from former President Bill Clinton’s visit to Rwanda amidst the country’s devastation following the genocide of 1994.
When Rwanda’s civil war between tribes had ceased, 1 million of the country’s 10 million citizens were executed. Among the dead were senior government officials, educators, civic leaders and much of the health sector.
As part of the Rwandan government’s rejuvenation plan, Rwanda 2020, a scholarship program called Rwandan Presidential Scholars began with Oklahoma Christian University where outstanding Rwandan students would come to the United States to pursue degrees in higher education that would in some way serve and rejuvenate their country.
Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States, James Kimonyo, spoke about the country’s struggle.
“We’re the size of Maryland. But we’re no different. We have a situation of conflict with loss of life,” Kimonyo said.
Kimonyo described the civil war and genocide as a Holocaust for Rwanda.
“The same instruments used in the Holocaust were used in Rwanda. You cannot believe the difficulty in telling people they are all one people,” Kimonyo said.
Kimonyo believes that education is the key to liberation and essential in the rejuvenation of Rwanda.
“Through education, you can liberate a man or woman. The only way to change our situation is to educate our young people.”
Kimonyo said the concern with the program is the cost. Since the program’s beginning, the Rwandan government has used aid money to provide students who are coming to the United States scholarships.
Kimonyo said the costs are high for students to come, sometimes 20 times the cost of educating one Rwandan student.
Clinton’s concern for Rwanda has allowed aspects of the program to be funded by the William J. Clinton Foundation.
Peter Gess, director of International Programs at Hendrix College, said Hendrix shares similar goals with Clinton for Rwanda. Henrdix has 19 Rwandan students attending on scholarships. They were the first in the state of Arkansas to welcome Rwandan students to their math and science programs.
“The Foundation said they love what we’re doing in education, and they committed to ensuring good health of students, providing money for medical necessities. They wanted to fund leadership programs as well. They’ve also funded our study program where our students study in Rwanda,” Gess said.
A group of five students from Hendrix are in Rwanda studying African religion, peace and reconciliation, and social development.
The University of Central Arkansas is the most recent institution to join the program. UCA’s Provost Lance Grahn will travel to Rwanda before the fall semester begins to interview and recruit three students.
As part of the two-day conference, educators and foundation representatives met Friday morning to discuss the “nuts and bolts” of the program. Hendrix President Timothy Cloyd said the Rwandan government may not be able to assist further.
“Does this program make us profitable? No. But it benefits our students. And we must reach out to globalize our campuses,” Cloyd said. “As aid money decreases from Western countries, the government cannot afford to support the program. We must face questions about what we will do. We must have a serious discussion about costs. I ask you to think about what we can do. What might we do further, and are we doing enough?”
Gess said methods of funding for the students hasn’t been decided. He said there’s potential for more partnering with the Clinton Foundation but “discussions are only beginning.”
Twenty-one colleges from nine states are participating in the Rwandan Presidential Scholars Program, and 130 Rwandan students will be in the United States in August to receive their college degrees.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)