2013-07-03 / News

Three-week Rwandan trip opens eyes of college freshman

By Margo Sullivan

Emily Levy (orange shirt) is a freshman at Babson College who recently visited Rwanda to teach local students entrepreneurship and social media. Emily Levy (orange shirt) is a freshman at Babson College who recently visited Rwanda to teach local students entrepreneurship and social media. Jamestown’s Emily Levy capped her freshman year at Babson College with a working trip to the African nation of Rwanda.

Rwanda is known to many Americans as the scene of a civil war and genocide 20 years ago. Many of the young adults Levy met bear the scars of the conflict, but contemporary Rwanda is modeling itself after the United States. Emily says the country has made strides to diversify its economy.

President Paul Kagame – a controversial figure – has made English, which is the third most spoken tongue, the nation’s official language. He’s also pushed for other progressive reforms. Rwanda, says Levy, is now the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Emily went to Rwanda for three weeks to teach entrepreneurship and social media to kids ranging from their early teens to college students. She traveled with a group of five other Babson students, all women’s leadership scholars. The group, which included one graduate student, left Boston on May 24 for a 24-hour flight to Africa. They returned on June 16.

In Rwanda, the women stayed at a convent in Save, which she described as an “educational town” that is home to the National University of Rwanda and the National Catholic University. The school where they taught was in walking distance from the convent, Emily said.

Although Rwanda remains 80 percent agricultural, Emily said many university students plan to start small businesses and do not intend to farm. Some of those enterprises are “microlevel,” she said, meaning the business may consist of a sole proprietor selling bananas.

However, Levy’s instruction focused on showing these entrepreneurs a more efficient way to manage their time and money.

She also taught information technology. She showed the students how to use the computer to create resumes, and also gave seminars on creating PowerPoint presentations.

The most popular question her students asked was, “How do I get to America?” Many expressed a desire to attend Babson. That dream is impossible today due to the expense, according to Emily, and only the wealthiest Rwandans could afford a U.S. college education. However, Babson is in the process of creating two scholarships for African students.

Emily said the students also asked her if both her parents are living. They were surprised when she said “yes.” Many Rwandan youth were orphaned in the war, and others lost one parent.

Despite its violent history, Rwanda is a beautiful place, she said. The Rwandans call their country the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” According to Levy, the landscaping is prominent and beautiful, with lush green hills dominating the scenery. She found it hard to believe these people were in a civil war just 20 years ago.

At the convent, Emily and her friends lived with an order of African nuns who ran a local school and farm. About 25 nuns lived in the monastery. Each nun had a job, Levy said. One served as the lo- cal school principal. Another took care of the grounds. A third dealt with the financial books, while a fourth nun kept an eye on the farm.

Emily and the other students enjoyed the farm food, she said. The produce ranked with the best farmto table fare she has ever eaten. In the backyard, the nuns cultivated banana, avocado and passion fruit trees. The fruits and vegetables became part of Emily’s daily diet, she said, and the nuns kept cows and drank the fresh milk. (According to Levy, the milk was boiled to kill the germs but not pasteurized.) The convent also had rabbits for meat and chickens for eggs. Rice and beans were about the only items the nuns purchased in a store.

Only the convent’s mother superior spoke English, Emily said. The nun had studied one summer at Babson, and that is how the school formed the connection with Save.

Emily plans on a business career in fashion or music. She hopes to stay in Boston and work for a company after graduation. Later, she expects to start her own business. She is studying retail management and entrepreneurship. As a member of the women’s leadership program, she has also advanced her interest in women’s global issues and would like to continue the work. She would like to return to Rwanda with the leadership team if Babson gives her the opportunity.

The trip completely changed her perspective, she said.

“The problems we think are problems are not big things,” she said. She met people her own age who didn’t own a pair of shoes and didn’t remember their parents.

“I am so appreciative for all the things that I have,” she said. Before Rwanda, Emily was a “highanxiety, stressed” college student. She doesn’t see her life the same way anymore.

Emily is a member of the Babson class of 2016. She belongs to the fashion club and Kappa Kappa Gamma on the Wellesley campus where she is also the director of community service for College Connect.

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