YSU Students Practice Service Learning in Rwanda

By Tina Kalenits

Youngstown State University students and faculty in the departments of social work, nursing and counseling provided health assessments to residents in Kigali, Rwanda, while spending one day touring the city and one day in the villagers’ homes during spring break. 

The interdisciplinary trip included 16 students and three faculty members, according to Sherri Woods, an assistant professor of social work.

“Service learning is specifically to engage in a concern that is present in the country and then to do something about it to serve and offer a service to address that,” Woods said.

Randall Gillum, junior nursing major, poses for a photo with a boy during a tour of Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Randall Gillum

“The goal for the trip is to serve globally as social workers and also to learn cultural immersion and cultural humility by visiting a third-world country with diverse cultures and experiences,” she added.

According to Woods, there is a noticeable difference in the economy of the United States and Rwanda, and citizens of the U.S. can apply for state assistance, but in Rwanda that isn’t an option.

“It’s like [in the U.S.] you see blight, we see the buildings and run-down homes, [in Rwanda] you see extreme poverty, no homes, huts. There are some similarities in that but definitely a difference in the economy,” Woods said. 

Randall Gillum, a junior nursing major, said he was nervous to travel outside of the U.S. at first, but he was excited to provide a service to another country with his peers.

Randall Gillum, junior nursing major, tours Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Randall Gillum

“You can’t live life in a box. You need to experience things, and it would be a real shame not to go out and experience things,” he said. “I want to test my assessment skills. You’re going somewhere where people don’t speak the same language. They don’t understand the same body language.” 

Ultimately, students’ work days were cut short because of YSU’s precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I would have liked to do more, though, and finish the mission we started out on, but for safety and liability reasons I understand why the university had to call us back,” Gillum said.

He said he believes in serving other people. 

“To see different things and understand different cultures can be a big impact; that’s the main focus right there,” he said.

Kaitlyn Hosa, junior nursing major, hugs a young boy during the tour of Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Randall Gillum

Victoria Kress, a counseling professor at YSU, said Kigali has come a long way since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“It’s hard to recognize that you’re in a third-world country in certain parts of Kigali, but what is unique about it is that it goes from the village where you see people walking with no shoes and bananas on top of their head to the city when you see them riding in cars and restaurants,” she said.

Kress said she was excited for the other students to experience the city. 

“They had a million people killed in 30 days of systematic genocide,” she said. “There’s so much they can teach us about redemption, hope and forgiveness.”

The trip did not experience any travel delays or restrictions traveling to and from Rwanda, but the group returned to Youngstown a few days early.