Inside USD

Innocent Rugaragu, Rwanda

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The University of San Diego’s annual All Faith Service is Thursday, Feb. 2 at 12:15 p.m. in Shiley Theatre. The campus community comes together for a diverse experience through faith traditions. Several USD international students serve as flag-bearing representatives of their respective countries. Inside USD chose five students and asked them to share insights about their home country and their USD experience.

Where were you born?

I was born in rural Karagwe-Tanzania where my parents had moved as refugees following the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda.

How long have you lived in Rwanda? Do you still visit during school breaks? Will you live there again after you graduate?

Not long enough as I desire. I started living in my country after the 1994 genocide and prior to that my family and I were refugees in Tanzania. My father escaped death and his family lost almost everything including some lives. I do still live in Rwanda, though part of my family still lives in Tanzania. I will, absolutely yes, return. As USD alumna Justine Darling said after returning from Rwanda to attend a conference: “It’s one of the most beautiful places you can be.” East or West, home is the best.

What are some fond memories of Rwanda?

Some of my fondest memories include social and cultural life of the Rwandese. There is an ambiance of feeling at home where you sing and dance in your own language and environment and where events such as a child being born and a relative or a friend marrying brings so much joy and celebration. I miss our Rwandan traditional dances.

How different is Rwanda than 10-18 years ago?

Rwanda has come from despair to relentless hope. We are a journeying country from perishing and the genocide to flourishing and rebuilding people and peace. A plaque near the entrance of Gisozi, the main genocide memorial center in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, says: “This is about our past, and our future, our nightmares and our dreams, our fear and our hope.” Rwanda is famously known as a country of 1,000 hills, with 1,000 problems that need 1,000 methods to arrive at 1,000 solutions. The foundations of those hills were shaken by ugly, terrifying, and horrendous killings of 1959, 1961, 1963, 1973 and finally the genocide of April-July, 1994 where nearly one million people, the majority being Tutsis, were brutally slaughtered in ways not thought possible. The 18 years after the genocide seem to have proven that it is possible to overcome our ugly past, namely through politics, genocide and the pain of a massive loss of human lives and traumas, fear, poverty, ignorance, diseases, refugees and more. Rwanda has emerged as a country of relentless hope, one of the cleanest and secure in the continent with a driving urge for forgiveness, reconciliation peace and sustainable development.

Can you share some cultural thoughts about Rwanda?

The Republic of Rwanda is a land-locked country located in central East Africa with an area of 10,169 square miles — equal to the size of Maryland — and a population of nearly 11 million. Languages used include Kinyarwanda, the native language, French, English and Kiswahili. I do miss Kinyarwanda as my native language. I miss cultural foods such as umutsima, isombe, bruchette, beans and plantains cooked different styles, my aunt’s famous peanut sauce, fresh milk taken direct from cows, cassava, sweet potatoes, tropical sweet fruits such as ripe bananas, mangos, avocados, pineapple and famous Rwandan coffee and banana wine.

If you were a tour guide for people visiting Rwanda, what would you show them?

Anyone visiting Rwanda shouldn’t miss the following: Rwanda has wonderful generous people, breathtaking beautiful lakes, challenging mountains, stunning scenery, perfect climate, rare species of apes, moderate good roads, express buses, and good, cheap food and beer. Some touristic centers of note: the mountain Gorillas, Mountain climbing such as Karisimbi, Akagera and Nyungwe Forest national parks, beautiful Lake Kivu in Gisenyi and Kibuye, Rusumo Falls Butare National Museum, the King’s palace and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in Gisozi.

What is a misconception people have about Rwanda?

One misconception people have about Rwanda is safety. Following the genocide, war and violent conflicts for many years, many people still have the Rwanda of the past, portrayed in the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” in their minds. But, according to the 2011 Global Peace Index, Rwanda ranks 75th, ahead of countries like Brazil (83) and U.S. (85). For any member of the campus community interested in visiting Rwanda, doing an internship or research there, please don’t hesitate for fear of insecurity. Rwanda is safe, secure and serene. If Rwanda isn’t on your travel list, please add it. I would be happy to be a resource person for you.

How did you hear about USD? What graduate program are you studying?

I thank one of my theology professors who first mentioned this school as I was chatting to him about what I want to do in the future. One day, I did an Internet search for the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and here I am now in the master’s degree program for peace and justice studies. My focus is on conflict analysis, transformation and resolution.

Describe your experience as an international student at USD?

As an international student, attending USD proves what John F. Kennedy once said: “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent.” This is how I see USD. It’s an amazing place where students have the ability to grow not only intellectually, but also in their humanity and spiritually.

What are your thoughts about American culture? Has it been a difficult adjustment?

Since San Diego is the second U.S. city I’ve lived (Berkeley, Calif. the other), culturally it wasn’t much of a shock. However, the difference between the community life I was used to versus the personal life here did shock me. As for adjusting, I’m generally a dynamic person who lives in the present. This helps me enjoy what life offers me in San Diego and at USD. The IPJ and USD as a community have been so supportive and understanding. It’s amazing how USD as a community celebrates cultural diversity. It makes me feel at home as an international student.

The All Faith Service provides a chance to represent Rwanda and carry your flag. How do you feel being a part of this event?

I feel both honored by USD community to have admitted me, gave me a scholarship and asked me to carry the flag of a native country to celebrate all faith service here in the campus. I equally feel humbled to carry the flag of my country here at USD. This reminds me that the scholarship I have and the space I occupy in this community is not only for me but for my native country as well.

Describe Rwanda in one sentence:

Rwanda is a country of breathtaking beauty.

  • Share/Bookmark