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Finding meaning half a world away

September 8, 2015

Finding meaning half a world away
Rachel Goldstein (right), BA’17, interacts with students at the Centre Marembo in Rwanda.

Rachel Goldstein admits she never understood the power one person could have on a seemingly infinite world. That is until a service-learning trip to Rwanda in the summer of 2014, one backed by a donor-funded Global Opportunities Award, changed her mind.

“I went to Rwanda wondering if I would help a single person, wondering if our team would help anyone,” says the Arts & Humanities and Biology student. “I left knowing that almost 250 students had listened to our message.

“The trip has taught me that even if only one student puts their new knowledge into practice, our work will contribute to improving that one person’s quality of life. That is the ultimate goal of service-learning – give what you can and receive an invaluable experience in return.”

Rachel’s journey began with the Rwanda: Culture, Society and Reconstruction course in the Department of French Studies, taught by professor Henri Boyi. Following an initial four-month, in-class component where students learn about the culture and history of the central African nation, the course ends in a five-week international service-learning experience in Rwanda.

Rachel and four fellow students were placed at Centre Marembo, an organization that supports abused and disadvantaged youth, and included sexual health education and community outreach.

Rachel’s team was assigned to a local high school in Kigali, where they worked with Rwandan youth, teaching about family planning, reproductive anatomy, sexually transmitted infections and prevention, as well as methods of contraception.

“We received hundreds of questions in regards to menstruation during our time at the high school,” Rachel says. “The students would ask us what was wrong with their bodies. Some thought that these natural processes meant that they were sick. Culturally, it is not common to have someone talk openly about such things as menstruation.”

Because of the language barrier and her general discomfort teaching for the first time, the class did not initially go as smoothly as she hoped. But Rachel and her peers learned, adapted, and improved the lessons exponentially over five weeks.

By receiving the Global Opportunities Award in 2014, Rachel was able to travel 12,000 km to what she considers “to be the strongest and most beautiful country in the world.” In 2015 she returned to Rwanda as the team leader for the course. This year she again spent time with the Centre Marembo as they worked to realize their new vision of creating a safe space for former street girls and providing them with education.

“This experiential learning trip was the most incredible opportunity. Within those five short weeks, I encountered more inspirational men and women than I had in my entire life. Being able to work with the Rwandan people as they build a brighter future for themselves has truly allowed my intercultural competence to grow.”

To learn more about Global Opportunities Awards, please visit: giving.westernu.ca/where-to-give/go-awards

This article appeared in the 2015 edition of Annual Impact
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