Sometimes a college education is more than just a college education.
Two students from Rwanda, a country torn apart by genocide in the ’90s, are coming to Wofford College as part of a larger group arriving on American campuses this fall in an attempt to create a new generation of educated professionals in their home country.
A total of 25 students were selected in April based on national test scores, a written English test and an oral English interview.
“We did not just look at their English speaking ability, although that was an important part of it,” said Dr. Peter Gess, director of international programs at Hendrix College, who helped in the selection process. “It was sort of a way to measure the kind of success they could have here by asking lots of cultural questions and liberal arts questions.”
The story of the Wofford connection begins with Paul Farmer, co-founder of an organization called Partners in Health that was created to help the poor in Haiti. The organization added Rwanda to the cause during the 1990s.
Farmer received the Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind as well as an honorary degree from Wofford on March 27, 2007. He and his organization helped get the ball rolling in getting the 25 students to America, where they hope their educations can help them rebuild the shattered economy of their homeland.
“Programs like this fit in well with Wofford’s United Methodist heritage,” said David Wood, dean of the college. “We paid for 75 percent of the cost, and the Rwandan government picks up the rest.”
The students arrived in Arkansas in May. Ten of them enrolled at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, six will attend Hendrix College, four will be at Harding University, two each will be at Philander Smith College and Wofford, and one will attend Ouachita Baptist University.
One of the two Wofford students, Jeanne Umuhire, a pre-med student, actually sought out Wofford. The other, Regis Rutarindwa, is studying physics/engineering.
“I want to go to medical school and become a doctor because I’ve always been interested in helping all people,” says Umuhire. “I want to do a residency in psychology because there are not that many people who study the mind in Rwanda.”
As one might expect, the Rwandans have a clearer vision of where their education will lead them than most students.
“There are (Rwandan) students interested in engineering and construction to build infrastructure from railroads to roads to building,” said Gess. “There is a student who is interested in computerizing medical records, and many of them are interested in the world of pharmaceuticals. Each of their interests are different, but overall the common goal they share is developing their country.”
For Umuhire and Rutarindwa, that noble goal will begin at Wofford, where they will start classes on Sept. 1.