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Political Science students participate in experiential learning in Rwanda

Dr. Lindsay Scorgie, Political Science professor
It’s hard to understand these things by just being in the classroom. It’s so helpful to talk to the people who are actively working on and have lived the issues that we are studying.

Over the February Reading Week break, Huron Political Science professors Dr. Lindsay Scorgie-Porter and Dr. Neil Bradford led a group of fourteen students to Rwanda. For ten days, the group learned about Rwandan history, the realities of the genocide in 1994, and current peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. The group spent most of their time in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, visiting memorial sites marking mass atrocities that occurred during the genocide. The trip also focused on peace-building justice and reconciliation efforts since the genocide.

One of the highlights for the group included visiting peace villages, where perpetrators and survivors of the genocide are living together in community. Dr. Scorgie-Porter reflects, “It’s hard to understand these things by just being in the classroom. It’s so helpful to talk to the people who are actively working on and have lived the issues that we are studying.”

A topic that stood out to the students after their return to Canada was the focus on the ongoing reconciliation process, transitional justice mechanisms, and the Rwandan government’s current efforts towards peace and relationship building within the country and the international community. Scorgie-Porter explains, “One of the main forms of healing in the communities we visited is the ability for genocide survivors to tell their stories. The more these stories are heard, the more they can contribute to the prevention of genocide or conflict in other places throughout the world.”

Scorgie-Porter believes that university students are good vessels for sharing stories. When asked about the benefits of experiential learning opportunities, Scorgie-Porter reflects, “Experiential learning enriches undergraduate education, and helps to solidify what students want to do post-undergrad. Your undergrad years are the best time to be exposed to these experiences.”

This student experience in Rwanda was made possible through a partnership with the Aegis Trust, a genocide prevention NGO organization that helps to support and conserve memorial sites. This partnership gave the group exposure to experts on the different topics they were interested in, the opportunity to participate in discussions with genocide survivors and community members, and the chance to visit sites that would not otherwise be available to the public.

Near the end of their time in Rwanda, the students decided they wanted to perform a tangible form of service to someone in the community. Aegis Trust arranged for the students to plant a vegetable garden for an older woman in the community who had become paralyzed during the genocide. Scorgie-Porter reflects that this activity and expression of gratitude on the part of the students meant a great deal to this woman, who was not physically able to plant her own garden.

The group returned to Canada with an increased understanding of the complexities behind the past and present of a country, and having encountered in a tangible way the crucial and ongoing work of peace and reconciliation processes globally.

June 2019