Monday, 9 September 2019

The start of the Fall 2019 Semester!

“One thing that pleases God is to see his people sharing the small things they have.”        
           These were just a few of the many moving words spoken to us last week during our time in Rwanda, and they point to one theme USP will continue to build on throughout the semester. I heard this quote while visiting an organization in Rwanda which helps rural community members start their own savings groups. The words were spoken in a very literal sense, referring to the group members sharing their money and helping each other financially, but the words are true beyond just the physical meaning. God delights in people sharing all the small things they have, whether they be insightful words or unique skillsets, and this is something USP highly values. In classes and conversations, students and staff share the bits of wisdom that they are gaining, and at practicums, supervisors get to share their expertise with the students.
            All 38 USP students arrived over two weeks ago, and it’s been a whirlwind for both staff and students. Now that we’re finally settling in and getting into the flow of the semester, I’ll briefly summarize what we’ve been up to here at USP.
            Week 1 was a combination of orientation to Uganda and preparation for our 10-day study trip to neighbouring Rwanda together with 10 UCU Honours College students. On Monday, homestay students were dropped off at their homes and began the process of getting to know the families they’ll be living with this semester. 
Abby Lebs meets her host mom, Mama Elizabeth
Amelia Schwartzkopf meeting her host mom. 
            On Tuesday of Orientation, all the students participated in a Mukono scavenger hunt, their first foray into their new town, tasked with finding the grocery store, bank, and other important locations. For the rest of the week, students continued orienting to the campus and learning more about USP, while also preparing for our week-long pilgrimage in Rwanda.
            The Rwanda study trip is intentionally planned around 3 themes, beginning with the country’s hard history of division and genocide, then moving into projects of reconciliation and healing, and ending with a look at the story of development in Rwanda over the past 25 years. The first day in Kigali, students visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Nyamata Genocide Memorial, a former church and the site of a major massacre in 1994. On Sunday morning, after a heavy first day, students attended local churches, dancing and worshipping alongside Rwandans and fellow USP and UCU students.

Entrace of Nyamata Genocide Memorial
Students and staff after Sunday morning's church service
            On Monday, our group visited CARSA (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance), an organizations which is actively working toward reconciliation and healing. We heard from a panel consisting of victims of the genocide along with their perpetrators. To see a man sitting next to the man who killed his father, and to learn not only of the forgiveness, but to witness the true friendship and healing that has taken place between the two, was extremely moving and humbling. After hearing from them about their process of reconciliation, we shared a meal together. It was a beautiful opportunity to remember that we are all human, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. One student, reflecting on his experience at CARSA, said he was amazed to see that the relationships were “not just peaceful cohabitation, but true reconciliation.” I thought that was a perfect way to sum up what CARSA is aiming for: not mere tolerance of one another, but full healing and love between former enemies.

USP and UCU students stand with genocide survivors

Fischer Marcus and Etienne playing tic-tac-toe together.
            On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, we visited  Inema Arts Centre, an art gallery in Kigali, where we experienced the healing power of beauty and creativity through art and dance. On Tuesday morning, we visited Imigongo Art Center, where we learned the traditional art form, Imigongo, using cow dung and paint to make beautiful geometric designs.    

Students learn traditional Rwandan dance at Inema Arts Centre

Brandon Bolton & Caleb Hareb observe art at Imigongo

Students' Imigongo masterpieces
Diana BuDoff sifting cow dung at Imigongo
            On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, we had the privilege of listening to some incredible speakers including Reverend Antoine Rutasirye, the former Vice Chairman of the National Unity & Reconciliation Commission, and economist Rev. Emmanuel Murangira, the Country Director for Tearfund. It was a great opportunity for students to ask questions and gain clarification on some of the information and thoughts they had been processing for the previous few days.
            On Wednesday we visited the saving groups mentioned earlier, through Hope International. We walked into a church that was alive with singing and dancing and immediately felt welcomed and loved. Most of the students joined in the dancing and clapping, and it was such a pure expression of the joy the church should always have. Students were split into small groups to observe the savings groups in action, and hear the hopeful stories of how the members of each group had truly transformed their lives through collective saving and the small loans they could take out to fund their business start-ups or pay school fees. At the end of the meeting my small group attended, one woman told us, “there is no such thing as loneliness in this group.” I was teary as I sat and took it all in — the strength of the community, the way everyone looks out for and loves one another, the clearest example of true Christianity. 

Members of the savings groups give a warm welcome
A Hope International savings group in action
             On our last day in Rwanda, the Global Health Emphasis students broke off from the rest of the group and went to a northern region of Rwanda to visit Butaro Hospital and the brand-new University of Global Health Equity. We ate lunch together with medical students at the university before hearing from a panel of doctors and developers who have built an amazing hospital there. It was intriguing to hear about the health care system in Rwanda, and inspiring to learn the ways that people are giving their lives to help people receive the quality health care they deserve. We also, unexpectedly had the thrill of a lifetime for many Global Health enthusiasts—of meeting and interacting with world renowned medical anthropologist Paul Farmer!
While Global Health students were in Butaro, the Interdisciplinary Emphasis and Social Work Emphasis students visited Bridge to Rwanda, an organization which was started in 2007 “to create opportunities for Rwanda's most promising students to obtain a global education and to attract foreign direct investors to accelerate Rwanda’s economic growth.” Our students had the opportunity to eat lunch together with and converse with their Rwandan peers preparing to study abroad in the US. For both groups, Thursday was an amazing time to come together and learn from our global community.

Students from the USP Global Health Emphasis, UCU Honors College, and the University of Global Health Equity stand with GHE Coordinator Micah Hughes and Dr. Paul Farmer outside of UGHE

USP and UCU students pose with their new friends at Bridge to Rwanda
            To wrap up the pilgrimage, the entire group made its way to Bushara Island, a beautiful spot on Lake Bunyonyi in south-eastern Uganda. We spent a lot of time just decompressing and enjoying the beautiful nature, but we also gathered as a group to debrief the trip and discuss our thoughts and feelings heading into the semester. Our director, Rachel, led us through a conversation with three parts: “my mind thinks, my heart feels, my will is formed.” It was an important time of processing and sharing where we all find ourselves now, and preparing for what’s to come in the next few months.
Students and Program Assistants take a boat ride to Bushara Island
Fisher Marcus, Jordan Dokolas, Riley King, and Grant Dunaway sport some new hats from the island

A canoe ride on Lake Bunyonyi
            Classes started last Monday, and students seem to be doing really well given the craziness of the past few weeks! Thoughts and prayers continue to be appreciated by all of us here at USP!

                                                                Anna Ostrander, USP Program Assistant


  1. Great Summary of the first few weeks. Thank you for the words and amazing photographs. Continued prayers for the whole crew.

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