Alumna Leading Change in Rwanda

Monday, August 1, 2016TOPICS: AlumniChangemakerStudent Success

Cindi Cassady in the field
begin quoteAt the risk of sounding cliché, the Kroc School was one of the highlights of my academic and personal life. With exposure to international students in the program, the world became a much smaller, more exciting place.

I have been living in Rwanda for almost 2 years. For the past year, I have been working as a consultant with the University of Kibungo (UNIK) in the eastern region of the country. Before attending the Kroc School of Peace Studies, I had a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and worked with deaf people, gender-based violence and program development for many years. In 2011, I became involved in working with deaf children and education in Tanzania. I realized that I needed to return to school to gain a better understanding of international systems and development. I think it’s important to be aware of who you are and the multiple levels of your privilege before you ever board a plane to “help others.” Having worked in the deaf community for almost 30 years, I knew that as a hearing person, I was privileged in many ways that deaf people were not. I also knew I had barriers to overcome in earning deaf people’s trust and respect as a hearing psychologist as American deaf people have a long history of oppression by hearing people. With respect to Tanzania, I knew it was my responsibility to learn as much as possible. Mary Anderson’s “Do No Harm” is a timeless classic for international development and resonates with my own philosophy of ways of being and doing in the world.

At the risk of sounding cliché, the Kroc School was one of the highlights of my academic and personal life. With exposure to international students in the program, the world became a much smaller, more exciting place. I made friends with students from Rwanda, Afghanistan, Nepal, and other countries. They encouraged me to grow and expand my horizons intellectually and geographically and have remained dear friends. My background in clinical psychology prepared me well for the program because psychology is simply the study of human behavior and in order to understand conflict and conflict resolution, one must understand how people think and feel. I was also able to intersect my work with deaf people with international development and human rights.

Students often ask how a degree in Peace Studies will help them obtain a job after they graduate. I think the beauty of the degree is its versatility and ability to be applied to almost any setting. A year after I graduated, I went to Rwanda as a volunteer for PICO Rwanda, a Rwandese grassroots, community organizing NGO. During that first year in Rwanda, I realized I wanted to stay and work in a university setting. I am currently working as a consultant with the Univ. of Kibungo; redesigning their Clinical Psychology Bachelor degree program and creating a new Master’s program in Clinical Psychology with areas of specialization in gender based violence, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and rehabilitation, neuropsychology and marriage and family therapy. I am also designing the university’s clinical psychology treatment and research center for local as well as international psychologists and researchers. It will serve as a community mental health center for villagers and anyone needing psychotherapy services. Within this capacity, J.P. Lederach’s teachings about “web making” and the importance of building relationships with people from the ground up and the top down are crucial. As part of building the center, I’ve spent a number of months traveling to remote villages to interview several hundred villagers about their mental health needs and barriers to accessing services. I’ve also met with ministers to discuss mental health services and psychiatric medications in Rwanda, and lastly, I’ve traveled to the U.S. to engage heads of psychology departments to partner with the clinical psychology center for teacher/student exchange programs and collaborative research projects. The most enjoyable part of my work is watching theories come alive through practice.

After almost two years of being on the ground and building relationships with people, I learned a lot about where and what the gaps were in mental health. What became most important was to design a program that fit the current needs of Rwandans. Many of the societal and personal problems facing Rwandans today, are fallout not only from the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, but also from growing pains associated with a culture in rapid transition from an agrarian society to one that is becoming high tech. While Rwanda is to be commended on its remarkable success in development, the repercussions have also negatively impacted many segments of society such as youth abusing drugs and alcohol and an increase in the rate of divorce.

Recently, I’ve become involved with the deaf community in Rwanda and Malawi. Through my work with UNIK, I was invited to help find solutions to the shortage of psychosocial services for 50,000 Burundian refugees at one of the refugee camps in Rwanda. Although resources are very limited for all refugees, I am particularly aware that refugees who are deaf or have a disability, often experience the highest rates of gender-based violence. Therefore, I am working to ensure all psychosocial services are accessible in sign language by engaging the support of RNUD, the Rwandan National Union of the Deaf. In Malawi, I have been collaborating with MANDAD, the Malawi National Association of the Deaf to create a Deaf peer counseling program that will address issues such as gender based violence, early childhood marriage, and poverty for deaf women. We are also working together to develop the first sign language interpreter-training program for Malawi and we are receiving guidance and support from the interpreter-training program at Bethel College in Indiana. The interpreter-training program is just another example of the importance of peacebuilders building relationships and connecting people to resources.


Lastly, for current as well as future students, I would encourage you to consider the wisdom of J. P. Lederach when you are wondering what you can do with your degree from the Kroc School of Peace Studies: The moral imagination believes the unexpected is possible. Creativity requires moving beyond the parameters of what is visible, what currently exists, or what is taken as given. The moral imagination does not just think outside the box, it is willing to take the risk to live outside the box.

By Cindi Cassady

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


Contact Us


Visit Campus

5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110