As you know, 5 ONE Campus Challenge students are currently in Rwanda on a listening and learning tour. One of the students– Meredith Horowski– recounts meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame. You can read more about the students’ trip here.
The OCC trip to Rwanda thus far has been chocked full of once in a lifetime experiences, but I have to say that the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the National Youth Council tops the list. The celebration was the culmination of Youth Week in Rwanda, which was a tribute to the Council’s progress in youth programs and empowerment over the last decade. The event, held in Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali, featured performances by some of Rwanda’s most talented youths, and the key note address was delivered by the President of Rwanda himself.
We walked into the stadium on this beautiful Sunday morning to an almost palpable sense of excitement. Students from across the country filled the bleachers, and together they spelled “Amizero Y’ U Rwanda” (Hope for Rwanda) in the colors of the Rwandan flag. Seated just behind the President’s box, the ONE crew had a great view of incredible youth acrobats, futbol (read soccer) players on rollerblades, a cultural dance group, and traditional African drummers. There were even famous pop artists, who had everyone on their feet, dancing, singing, and clapping for most of the morning. The energy in the stadium was contagious.
This celebration of youth empowerment also showcased testimonies from young achievers and entrepreneurs. Geoffrey, a young Rwandan fruit farmer, refused to give up on his dream of making 1,000,000 Rwf (approx. $2,000) when he was told he didn’t have the resources. Because of his determination, he now makes three times his goal and his fruit is sold to the government and distributed free to the public. Lydia, the oldest of ten orphans, put herself and all of her siblings through school, and is now a physical therapist. While the stories are different, the message is one we’ve heard throughout our trip; Rwandans are exceptional in their dedication to their schooling and their communities.
After the artistic performances and inspiring speeches, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, entered the stadium and walked around its track to tumultuous applause. In his address to the youth of Rwanda, he explained that continued development and opportunity, in a country that once had neither, is possible because of them, the future of the nation. President Kagame also spoke of one of the National Youth Council’s missions- to promote cooperation between the youth of Rwanda and the youth of other countries. To our surprise, the President directly addressed all of the ONE members, seated behind him. As all of our faces appeared on the jumbotron, the President voiced his hope for continued collaboration.
After the celebration, we had the incredible fortune to meet the President. We took some excellent pictures, banded him with a ONE bracelet, and were thrilled to see the President wearing a (RED) watch. It was amazing to finally meet the man we had heard so much about- the man who has brought Rwanda from tragedy and poverty, to peace and growing development. I don’t think any of us descended from cloud nine that afternoon. For me, the National Youth Empowerment Celebration represented the epitome of reconciliation: the youth and future of Rwanda, sitting together, not as distinct ethnic groups, but as Rwandans invested in the betterment of their country. Amizero Y’ U Rwanda.