It’s easy to fall back on what is already known or what we can see when learning about something new. When we do this we use old experiences to form impressions of people or places before we even encounter them. In order to truly comprehend a group of people, one can’t just rely on what he or she perceives, — they must personally interact with that group and develop meaningful relationships. When one thinks about a person from Rwanda they either have never heard of the country before or are only familiar with one aspect of Rwandan history: the genocide. The tragedy began when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda was shot down on 6 April, 1994, an event that would serve as the catalyst for a 100 day mass murder of approximately a million Rwandans. Brother turned against brother, families were ripped apart, children lost parents and parents lost children.
These grim 100 days are known as the Rwandan Genocide. In order to better understand the effects of this event and how it changed moving gradually past the horrors of the 1990s. According to the CIA Factbook, the country now boasts one of the highest percentages of women in the workforce in the world and a remarkable GDP rebound since the late ’90s. The capital city of Kigali boasts a skyline of highrises and skyscrapers far taller than it had been before. The Anchor asked Munyuza about how Americans view Rwanda, and if it seems that they know much about the country as it is today. “A lot of Americans,” he said, “rely heavily on what they already know about the small country.” For most, that means that they learned about the genocide in high school and are basing assumptions off of that event alone. Munyuza went on to explain how there are other opportunities to learn about the country along with other lesser known cultures if only people are willing to seek them out. He cites Multicultural Student Organizations (MSOs) and the enriching events they put on as a way to learn about these life in Rwanda, The Anchor spoke with one of Hope’s students from Rwanda, Kenneth Munyuza (’21). Growing up, Munyuza learned his fair share about his country’s history, both from school and from family. “I would hear about it sometimes from my mom,” Munyuza explained. He recalled learning a lot on the subject in school, during Genocide Remembrance Month, and during ingando, a sort of camp for civic education and unity building that he attended after graduating high school.
Since the end of the Genocide in July 1994, Rwanda has experienced unprecedented growth as it has rebuilt itself. Munyuza commented on one way that he saw changes happening in his country. He spoke about having frequent poweroutages during his childhood that are far less common now. He remembers being told that just after the genocide, one of the tallest buildings still standing in Rwanda was only three stories tall. These are just a few examples of what Kenneth saw and heard as he grew up in a Rwanda that was learn about these different cultures and the people who belong to them. Events like “One Night in Africa,” hosted by the Pan-African Student Organization back in September, gave students from several different countries in Africa the opportunity to showcase their culture and help others to learn more about them through games and dancing. A lot of students don’t consider joining an MSO because they don’t think that they’ll fit in, often due to their differing ethnic heritage. However, the existence of these organizations isn’t limited to people of a certain cultural background. “MSOs help people learn about these different cultures,” said Munyuza, debunking the common fear that MSOs are exclusive to students of color. Rwandans compose a surprisingly large percentage of international students at Hope.
With this in mind, The Anchor asked how it was that so many Rwandan students ended up at Hope when they could choose between hundreds, if not thousands of excellent educational institutions all over the world. Munyuza explained that a lot of them actually come from the same high school and that at their school is almost always visited by Hope faculty which helps attract students. This is a necessary and exciting contribution to the Hope community, not just because it diversifies the campus population and enriches the culture of the college. This ever-increasing array of social and ethnic backgrounds creates an excellent opportunity to learn about another country and population; to invite understanding in the age of misinformation.