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Afripeace Chico Journey to Rwanda
recipients: Pam Bodnar, Marsh Junior High School, CA
date: July 2012
Pam Bodnar, 2008 Memorial Library summer seminar participant and co-leader of the Memorial Library satellite seminar “Crossing Lines: Seeking Heroes, Finding Resilience,” worked diligently alongside high school students in Chico, CA to raise funds for a month-long trip to Rwanda Africa in July 2012. Bodnar is the advisor of Afripeace Chico, a non-profit student-run organization dedicated to making it possible for five local high school students to spend a portion of their summer as “ambassadors of peace,” traveling through Rwandan villages and cities building connections between American and Rwandan youth. The trip included educational and cultural workshops with Rwandan educators, presenters, and community and political leaders. Service projects involved assisting village communities with critical and life supporting health, education and community projects (building schools or shelters, farming/gardening, eco-preservation, recycling, and water purification). The primary focus for the Chico students was to teach and share non-violent conflict resolution techniques and mediation skills with Rwandan youth in the primary and secondary schools. A grant from the Library helped to make their vision come into being.
The Chico students, trained Peer Mediators, decided to work toward a trip of this nature after studying the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. It became clear to Bodnar and her students that they could make a difference in the world—one person at a time. Before their trip, the students of Afripeace Chico described their commitment to the project:
As soon as we started learning about the genocide in Rwanda Africa, we instantly recognized similarities between events that transpired in Rwanda and in the Holocaust. In both genocides, government officials tried to dehumanize the targeted races through propaganda, comparing them to vermin. This was a tactic used to ease peoples’ consciences, and justify the crimes they committed. Despite the efforts to exterminate the unwanted races, there were heroes fighting back. It is upstanders like them who have inspired us to travel to Rwanda. …We are not just passively embodying these principles; we are sharing them with other people. And by continuing to share with other people, we in turn learn more ourselves, in a never ending cycle.
Face-to-face interaction and home-stay living experiences offered personal connections with Rwandan youth that letters and emails could not accomplish. Immersed in day-to-day African life, they began to see and feel the joys and struggles of Rwandan families. As Bodnar wrote in a blog that chronicled their journey:
Rwanda has become a very comfortable and familiar place for us. It has been an astounding adventure that we have each shared at many different levels… The friendships fostered and exchange of laughter between our teams and the children of Rwanda will forever be remembered… For most this will be their only African visit. Therefore, the stories they will share are so very important in bringing home the “true and real” picture of Africa. So dear friends, please listen carefully as the students bring these messages home to you. Listen to the emotion behind the words as they tell their tales… Rwanda is on the move economically, politically, and educationally and we are honored to have been witness to so many changes. The students have embraced the feeling of peace and friendship throughout our journey.