Youthlinc and Utah State University were finally able to send two teams out after a 2 year hiatus due to the pandemic. Both teams were co-lead by Dr. Shannon Peterson, the Director of Global Programming, and Justin Powell, Executive Director of Youthlinc.
The Rwanda team was originally scheduled to travel over Christmas break in late 2021, but a few weeks prior to departure the omicron variant broke out, so Dr. Peterson and Justin made the excruciating decision to postpone the trip until May 2022. We are glad we did, because the restrictions in December were much heavier than when we finally arrived in May.
Check out this great article from the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy about how this partnership in Rwanda came to be.
Leading up to the trip in Rwanda where the team studied about genocide, peacekeeping, and reconciliation. All students on this trip were required to read two books in preparation for the trip to Rwanda as part of the a 3-credit course from Utah State University.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads. This memoir was about a girl who fled Rwanda with her family as a refugee, her story of being separated from them, building a new life in the United States after she was resettled, and how she sought to make sense with her traumatic history.
I Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. This memoir had historical context about what lead up to the genocide in 1994 and how Rwanda paved a path to recovery in the years following.
Exchanges with Refugee Students
We had two different exchanges with refugee students attending Kepler University. One group was from Karongi Refugee Camp near the Congo and we hosted them for a day at a guesthouse we stayed at on Lake Kivu. We did community building activities, cultural exchange, shared meals, and did a book group on The Girl Who Smiled Beads, which the Congolese students also read in preparation for the exchange. It was an uplifting and empowering experience for all of us as we came together as lifelong learners, as friends, and as people now connected and having a better understanding of the complexities in our worlds.
The Team also did an exchange with refugees in the capital city of Kigali, hosted by Kepler University. Rwanda takes a progressive stance on allowing refugees to integrate into Rwanda society if they choose to. In most other countries, refugees are restricted from leaving designated camps and have few rights in the country in which they are seeking refugee and are unable to return to their home counties for fear of persecution and death. We asked Rwanda government officials what has guided their compassionate stance on allowing refugees to integrate into society there rather than being corralled exclusively into camps, and they said, “Rwandans have been refugees for many decades and know how it feels to be displaced and have no rights as displaced persons, so we want to do what we can to make any refugees in our borders have a better chance at successfully rebuilding their lives.”
The Rwanda team was able to do service with a local community to build gardens to improve food security and visit reconciliation villages. The team build a complex community garden alongside community members that was drought tolerant and could provide nutritious vegetables more easily to families in the area. They had a wonderful time building that together and interacting with the community and the younger students at the same time.
They were also able to visit two reconciliation villages. One was a government program where they provide housing for poor families., the other was supported by a private NGO. A complex aspect of rebuilding communities is that some families are the families of genocide perpetrators and other families are victims of genocide. So community and economic rebuilding is highly emotional and psychological reconciliation efforts must be undertaken to help individuals begin to heal from the traumas relating to the genocide.
Rwanda Substack Articles by Students
All students on the team wrote articles about their experiences in Rwanda. Here is a sampling of articles published by the team about their time in Rwanda.
The other GCL trip was a three-week, 5-credit trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. This trip was designed by Dr. Shannon Peterson and Justin Powell. It had been postponed since 2020 due to the pandemic.
Part of the coursework preparation for this humanitarian-focused trip was to read four memoirs all dealing with different perspectives of the war and conflict in that region.
The Things They Carried. This Pulitzer Prize winning memoir tells the story of an American soldier as he was drafted into the Vietnam War and as a soldier in Vietnam.
The Mountains Sing. This book was written by a Vietnamese author and tells the triple generational story of a family that helped the team understand life in Vietnam through French, Japanese, and American occupation, and the time after the American War as Vietnam asserted its sovereignty to govern themselves.
The River of Time. This is written by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who lived in Vietnam and Cambodia during the tumultuous years of war and genocide and gives a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of the situation during that time.
First They Killed My Father. This memoir was written by a survivor of the Cambodian genocide who was able to escape and immigrate to the United States where she rebuilt her life.
While in Vietnam the team did cultural exchange projects with a youth group in Hanoi, organized by SJ Vietnam. They did an exchange with university students in DaNang with Dr. Ben Quick, a USU alum working at American University in Central Vietnam. The team met with VAVA, which is an nonprofit based in Hanoi that works with victims of Agent Orange and the team was able to support their work at a rehabilitation center in the outskirts of Hanoi. The team visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the Vinh Moc tunnels, Khe Sanh military base, and the Mekong Delta where they witnessed and supported community development efforts in the context of a post-conflict society. The team met with USAID and the UN offices while in Vietnam to learn about the efforts the US and the UN are taking to improve relations and address humanitarian issues in this beautiful country.
After Vietnam, the team traveled north to Cambodia. First, the team worked with Elephant Valley Project where they did ecological projects and learned about how conflict has caused harm to the ecological health of the area and the Bunong minority group in the Mondulkiri Provience. The team met officials at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh and at another UN office to learn about systemic issues affecting the welfare of Cambodians and about the work being done at a community and humanitarian level to support the development of Cambodia. The team visited the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng museum to learn about the genocide that happened in the late 1970’s. Lastly, the team traveled to Siem Reap where they worked with Halo Trust, an NGO that works on eradicating landmines in Cambodia that were placed there during the Vietnam War era that still have humanitarian implications today.
Vietnam and Cambodia Substack Articles by Students
All students on the team wrote articles about their experiences in Vietnam and Cambodia. Here is a sampling of articles published by the team about their time in Southeast Asia.
JOIN US IN 2023
There will be two teams with GCL in summer 2023. One is with Dr. Jessica Roueche from Utah State University heading to India. Learning and projects will be related to public health through a Western and Eastern approach to medicine, communication, and value systems. This new country-site will be coordinated by our Nepalese partner, Binod Rai, utilizing his network of volunteers.
The other team will be with Dr. Jessica Pauly from Utah Valley University, which is our first GCL team with UVU. This group will be traveling to Peru and working with a local community, with particular focus on women’s business and vocational programming, to elevate their ability to access additional marketplaces and will evaluate, recommend, and implement structures to improve communication between community groups.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to be a lifelong learner and join a GCL team, you are welcome to do so even if you are not a student attending USU or UVU.