Rwanda Reflections: Two Student’s Holistic Perspectives on GFIs

Reflections from Rwanda
By Michelle Dolinar, MSGA ’19

Sunrise in Kigali on January 2nd, 2019

Outrageously beautiful. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Rwanda. In comparison to the other countries I’ve traveled to on the African continent, Rwanda is insanely lush, thousands of flowers bursting with color and hills covered in dense green forest, all set to the soundtrack of a thousand birds singing their songs. The country truly lives up to its nickname, ‘land of 1,000 hills’. Surely traveling the country is enough to develop a deep appreciation for the natural wonders of Rwanda, but on this trip I was able to leave with something much more valuable; an understanding of the current social climate in Rwanda, 25 years post genocide.

My interest in Rwanda began long before attending this Global Field Intensive (GFI) with the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, and so it was a dream come true to be able to see the country as both a student and a tourist. I never thought I’d be able to gain such deep insights into Rwandan life, and the lasting struggles to achieving peace and reconciliation amongst perpetrators and survivors of the genocide. I gained a greater appreciation for Gacaca trials, something I knew little about before attending CGA, after sitting through countless meetings where we discussed the history of the genocide and justice in Rwanda. This is not a criticism of our gracious hosts, but instead an interesting anecdote that helps me, and other students on the trip, I’m sure, realize just how important Gacaca was, and remains, in post-genocide Rwanda.

Professor Trahan and Myself with the Prosecutors from the Fugitive Tracking Unit

In addition to learning more about Gacaca, our class engaged in conversations on genocide memorialization, peace and reconciliation, domestic and international trials, the hurdles that survivors of rape and sexual violence had to try to overcome, psychological and physical trauma, and many other subject areas. There are a few meetings we had that really stand out in my mind because of the new information they provided. The first stand out meeting was with the Fugitive Tracking Unit and the Prosecutors responsible for convicting génocidaires in Rwanda. This meeting, which came right after our meeting with the Rwandan Bar Association, an organization composed solely of defense attorneys, illuminated the obstacles which continue to make prosecuting génocidaires challenging and, also, gave our class a wealth of detailed information about specific cases. 

However, as many of my classmates, as well as Professor Trahan and Professor Cooper and Katie Dobosz Kenney, our administrator, would likely support, the most impactful meeting we had was with our tour guide turned friend. Although not originally planned, she agreed to share her story from the genocide, as she was just a young girl in 1994. As we sat in the night, surrounded by the stunning Akagera National Park, she thoughtfully answered our questions about her experiences, as well as what the future holds for all Rwandans. I won’t share the details of her story here out of respect for her and her family, but I will say that nothing is more eye-opening and inspirational than hearing from the survivors themselves. It’s easy to get bogged down in the numbers and statistics, but the stories of bravery, courage and strength help to humanize the true magnitude and impact of such a horrific conflict. Additionally, in sharing their stories, survivors can hopefully begin to process their trauma and heal, and so I hope that more survivors have the opportunity to tell their stories.

Our GFI Class Outside the Genocide Memorial in Kigali

Now that I’ve begun my journey back to the states and have plenty of time to process everything I saw, heard and experienced during this class trip, I am left with an even deeper educational curiosity for Rwanda and how the peace and reconciliation process can be improved. In my opinion, there seems to be very clear differences between reconciliation, forgiveness and justice. I’m not sure which of these, if any, have been achieved in Rwanda. It’s a high expectation, even unrealistic, to think that an entire country can be reconciled just 25 years after 1 million people were murdered by their neighbors, often people they thought were their friends. And yet, in spite of this darkness and horror, I left Rwanda with a sense of hope, largely due to the hope that many of our hosts exuded for their children and their country.

 

 


A Letter to My Former, Yet Single Minded Self 
By Amanda Colombo, MSGA ’19

To myself, one year ago, as a newly admitted CGA student, and all first year students at CGA,

From January 4th to January 13th, I stepped into another world- both physically and intellectually when participating in the Global Field Intensive to Rwanda. In taking advantage of these amazing opportunities, you will try amazing cuisines and get to know even more amazing people. Within or outside your area of study, be kind and converse about your similarities and most importantly: your differences. This trip has given me a newfound sense of appreciation for not only those in the international law field, but for every other concentration in the program. One of the most extremely memorable moments of the trip was on the very first day when we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. After our tour, we met with one of the coordinators of the museum, who is also a survivor of the genocide. The strength of this person and his motivation to teach young people in order to prevent the genocide from happening again was so inspirational to me. 


Now, most people asked me, “Why Rwanda?” They would ask me if I would be studying power or energy in general, and when I answered no- they looked extremely puzzled. I told them I would be studying Justice and Reconciliation after the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsis.

My friends and peers knew that this was outside my field, but were excited for me to step outside of my comfort zone. Actually, one of the most challenging parts of the trip was my application process. Why Rwanda? How will it help you in your professional goals? How will it help your career? I thought to myself, “Why would I be accepted to this class?” It’s not directly related to my field, of course they will choose someone else, I thought. But this past fall I had the courage to apply to a GFI I really liked- and got in! This is a life lesson that I learned at CGA. No matter how large or paralyzing your fear is – you should pursue it. That internship you think is a stretch – apply anyways.  That presentation you’re so nervous for- stay confident, you’ve got this! That exam you’ve spent days studying for  – prepare, and be confident in yourself; I think this goes hand and hand with stepping outside your comfort zone.

Because outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens. Between this trip and my time at CGA, I truly believe it. If there’s a class that sparks your interest and fits your curriculum but is outside your realm, take it. If there’s a GFI that doesn’t necessarily go with your concentration, apply and go.  You will create incredibly close friendships you did not think were possible with classmates from all different walks of life. You will have the time of your life while learning something new at the same time. Be focused – but not single minded.

 

 

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