When a friend asked Professor Cynthia Baughman to accompany her on a trip to Rwanda in January this year, she had no idea how much the trip would impact her outlook on life. The first aspect she commented on was the beauty of the land itself.
“The country is gorgeous, with a lovely climate,” Baughman said. “It’s mountainous, fertile, green and temperate. Swimming in Lake Kivu at sunset is something I’ll always remember. I thought of my friends back here as I watched blizzard reports on international CNN!”
During the year, Baughman is an enthusiastic professor in the Film and Media Arts department in the School of Communications and Theater. It’s not surprising then that the people she encountered in Rwanda found her as warm and jovial as her students back at Temple.
“I was very nervous about going to Rwanda, but I’m so glad I did,” she said. “The people were warm and welcoming. Rwandese were also very surprised and flattered when they found out that their country was the first I’d visited in Africa.”
In the course of her travels, Baughman was fortunate enough to see the famous mountain gorillas that anthropologist Dian Fossey observed for her groundbreaking research.
“[T]he gorilla families she studied are carefully protected in the Virunga Mountains in Northern Rwanda. Only 30 visitors a day are allowed, and are allocated in groups of about five to different gorilla families.”
Despite the necessary restrictions, Baughman remembers the experience fondly.
“We hiked through the jungle to see a small gorilla family. We could only stay with them for an hour, but it was really unforgettable. The group had a three-month old baby that was adorable.”
As her trip continued, Baughman encountered the dark history of Rwanda. She saw the Genocide Museum in Kigali, an experience she described as “powerful.” She also visited the Kicukiro Secondary School, also located in Kigali. It was a humbling experience to see men and women work so hard to rebuild the site of one of the most notorious attacks that occurred during the Rwandan Genocide.
Before the Kicukiro Secondary School was built, the land it rests on today was the location of the Dom Bosco School, which housed refugees of the genocide, under the protection of French troops. On April 7, 1994, almost 2,000 Rwandans were killed at the site when Belgian soldiers pulled out of the area, leaving the men, women and children vulnerable to attack.
After seeing the poor conditions under which students were learning, Baughman and her husband, Jim Mickle, opted to help raise money for the school. They partnered with The Shenkel United Church of Christ, in Pottstown, PA, which established the Rwanda School Fund.
“This is a very gratifying project, which I hope to be involved with for many years,” Baughman said.
Despite the country’s tragic past, Baughman is optimistic about Rwanda’s future.
“The Rwandese people are determined to move their country forward,” she said. “They have a terrific President, Paul Kagame, who shows what a difference a leader dedicated to peace and prosperity can make to his country. He will not tolerate reprisals for the genocide, and though physical reminders of the genocide are everywhere, you do not see hostility and violence.”
For more information about the Rwanda School Fund and how to make a donation, contact Cynthia Baughman at email@example.com.
Marta Rusek can be reached at MRusek@temple.edu.