Peace Works Travel’ student brings clean water to Rwanda

Published August 13, 2014

Clean water for all.

In January sixteen-year-old Cole Kawana joined a school trip to visit Network for Africa’s projects in Rwanda. But before he left Los Angeles he spent months researching the everyday challenges faced by people in developing countries. One of those stumbling blocks, Cole knew, was lack of access to clean water.

Cole demonstrates his water filters to Aspire staff and participants.

Cole found a potential solution: a water filter that could serve 100 people for up to five years, removing 99.9% of harmful bacteria. It uses no chemicals, and relies on gravity to force the unclean water through the filter. Each filter costs £30/$50, which works out as 50 cents for five years’ worth of clean water for each person.

Cole asked Network for Africa if he could run a pilot project with our partner Aspire in Kigali. Cole then raised enough money to buy twelve filters, and warned us to have dirty water and five-gallon buckets at the ready. Once Cole was in Rwanda his school group spent time at Aspire, watching the Aspire team as they taught local women about health, hygiene, nutrition, First Aid, and about their legal rights. He also saw women being trained in hairdressing and cookery.

When Cole’s moment came, dozens of people gathered around to watch as he demonstrated how to use the filters. It took only 20 minutes to turn dirty, cloudy water into clear water suitable for drinking. Cole then trained several members of the Aspire staff to use the filters, and they have since taken them to schools in the area. The filters were so popular that when he returned to California, Cole raised money for a further twelve filters, which were taken to Kigali by representatives of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.

Cole holds a jar of dirty water next to a jar of purified water.

Cole is now setting up his own non-profit, Clean Water Ambassadors. He intends to produce an online demonstration, with Skype tuition sessions on the proper maintenance of the filters. His ethos is not to spend money on postage or air travel: he will rely on people traveling to parts of the world where the water filters are needed, and connecting with local non-profits they already know.   Since his visit to Aspire earlier this year, Cole’s filters are now being used in Tanzania, Uganda, Belize and Fiji. Network for Africa is proud to have played a part in the birth of an smart solution to an age-old problem.

Students meet Rwandan president

Published March 3, 2014

Rwandan president Paul Kagame poses for a picture with students who returned last week from a trip to Rwanda to investigate the 1994 genocide.

Students who went on the semester break trip to Rwanda met Rwandan president Paul Kagame Feb. 12 at a Los Angeles World Affairs Council event at which he spoke.
Because they were not able to meet him during the trip as they had planned, they saw him before his speech, delivering  gifts, which included a portrait of him made by Danielle Stolz ’15, a Harvard-Westlake soccer jersey with his name on it and a jersey autographed by Italian soccer player Massimo Ambrosini from Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts.
Three of the students also asked him questions during an open session before he formally addressed the audience.
Kagame, who has had control of Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, spoke about the country’s recovery.
“Twenty years ago we sank to the very bottom; observers considered Rwanda a failed state and predicted it would remain so,” he said. “For people of Rwanda, that was not an option … We had to move upwards and do it together.”
The group obtained tickets to the event through the school’s connection with the World Affairs Council, trip leader and visual arts teacher Cheri Gaulke said.
Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

An eye-opening experience

Published February 28, 2014

At Harvard-Westlake, students get upset when they don’t get the Mercedes Benz convertible they asked for.  In Rwanda, giving a student an empty water bottle can bring them happiness for the next year.  We hear about the poverty and hardships that the vast population of the world faces.  However, this concept is hard to grasp until you see it, breathe it, feel it yourself.  I was granted this experience when I traveled to Rwanda during semester break.

We met a man named Kizito who, during the genocide, watched his mother get raped as his house was burned to the ground with his siblings inside.  The United States could have done many things to aid Rwanda during the genocide, but instead we passively watched and let it happen.  However, Kizito and the rest of the Rwandans do not hold this against us.  He welcomed us with open arms, spent time with us every day — and was brought to tears when we left at the airport.
Michael Mapes ’16 bonded with Kizito the most.  Their friendship grew stronger and stronger each day, and Mike was seen with him whenever we ate.  He never failed to ask where his Rwandan friend was, what he was doing — or if he was doing okay.  Kizito returned this affection, and their bond was evident.
At the end of the trip, Mike gave him $150 of his own money to help him get himself and his brother a better life.
The strength and forgiveness of the Rwandans was perhaps the most surprising. In Rwanda, the love is unconditional and non-judgmental.  Their ability to find this love, stemming from hate with roots so deep, is incredible and cannot be overlooked.  The growth of the people, who were once divided by hatred, is shown in everything  they do.  We were even able to see this in the children.
I have always been a horrible dancer, and when we went to do traditional Rwandan dancing, I was not very adept. After five minutes of attempting to look like a native African who is greeting the cows in a tribal dance, I opted out and sat down to watch.
I was approached by a girl who could not have been more than 2 years old.  She waddled over, away from her parents, and plopped herself down in my lap.  She wore a pink shirt and a pink skirt, both worn but still bright with life. Her large brown eyes, framed with long lashes, were sweet and innocent.  She grabbed my necklace and played with it, and I looked to her parents.  I expected them to grab her away from me — and scold her for being around a foreigner, someone they barely knew, someone who did not help them in their deepest time of need.  However, they laughed and smiled at me.  I stayed with the girl for the next hour, and could not have been happier.
This taught me a lot about forgiveness — and keeping an open mind.  I was able to take this with me back to Los Angeles, and I know that I will be a better person because of it.
I am going to work on being less judgmental and will try to find the good in everyone, because if the Rwandans can love us despite our ignorance, then we can at least do our best to try to be like them.
I also learned a lot about the value of education — and how fortunate we are to go to Harvard-Westlake.  I always used to take our teachers, their passion and our resources for granted.  In Rwanda, an entire school is lucky if it gets a secondhand dictionary.  As you look around the immense library at Harvard-Westlake, this may seem hard to grasp, but seeing it in person was truly eye opening.
Traveling to Rwanda has inspired me to work harder, not only for myself, but for those whom I met at the Learning Center.
The Learning Center is a school for young adults.  Equipped with 17 computers, the one story building hosts around 30 students eager to learn.  I brought with me a small 10-page book with basic phrases translated from the local language, Kinyarwanda, to English.  I met six women who were fascinated by the little book.  We spent hours laughing about the ways we mispronounced the languages, and they were eager to learn from their mistakes.  Their ability to make so much out of a book that cost me a dollar still stays with me, and I know I am trying harder with my classes here because of it.
We are so fortunate here, and it seems that we forget it often.  The things I will take from the trip — always cleaning my plate, giving money to the homeless, purchasing water that gives to charities in Africa — those are what I am the most proud of.  I have grown as a person and changed for the better, and as I move into the second semester with a new vision of life and a new purpose, I feel that I am at my best version of myself.  I wouldn’t change anything about my experience.
“My hope for the future is stronger than my fear,” a strong survivor of the genocide told us.
I see this quote as something we can all use as we go through our lives.  Because if the Rwandans were strong enough to overcome the brutality that they experienced, we can be strong enough to handle anything.
Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

All of her six children were killed

Published February 27, 2014

Feb 12
One thing was immediately noticeable as I stepped off of the plane: the smell of smoke, hanging thickly in the air. Later, I would discover that it was the smell of burnt trash, but at that time, my only thought was, “Finally. Rwanda.”

I found out about the Investigative Journalism Adventure to Rwanda last summer and immediately committed myself to the trip. During all of first semester this year, I researched how the country led itself to the point of mass murder.

It didn’t hit me until I was standing in LAX at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 24. that I was going to Rwanda, a country I had only heard about once or twice in the news prior to the trip.

I realized that even though I knew much about the country’s torn past, I knew nothing of its current situation.

My dad’s safety briefing, minutes before we separated — always walk around with a buddy, check in with an adult every night, don’t eat things that strange people give you, if you get lost, call the United States Embassy — did nothing to ease my nerves.

The minute we arrived in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, we were met with stares. We were a group of 18 tired Americans in the single-terminal airport, 10,000 miles from home.

In the morning, we caught our first glimpse of Rwanda. The sprawling hills provided the same breathtaking view everywhere in the country. Rwanda’s second name, “The Land of a Thousand Hills,” was definitely not a misnomer.

We saw the culture and lifestyle of the Rwandan people whizzing by as we traveled on the bus. I saw people carrying water to their homes and women carrying babies on their backs, a basket on their head. We began to wave at the Rwandan people, and most made a welcoming gesture back at us.

Much of the anxiety I felt about going to a recently violent country fell away.

These people were happy and open. They weren’t the hostile and closed-off culture I had imagined that they would be. I was beginning to feel accepted by these people.

Before the trip, each of the students chose a specific topic they wanted to focus on during and in the follow-up activities after the trip. Some compared the Rwandan genocide to the Holocaust, others focused on the children in Rwanda and one group brought soccer balls to distribute and document how the sport was helping the country heal. I decided to turn my attention to the women of Rwanda and what they were doing to heal their country and shape its future.

As I walked through the exhibit on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, I was hit by the magnitude of the killing.

I realized the pictures and descriptions I had come across in America did not even begin to capture the true nature of the genocide. When I came across a certain line of text in one of the descriptions, I sat against the opposite wall, staring at it, reading it over and over again until I couldn’t bear to look at and imagine it any longer. Even when we exited the memorial and got on the bus to go to our next destination, the line wouldn’t stop flashing in my mind as I closed my eyes and rested my head against the window.

Hutu and Tutsi women were often forced to kill their own Tutsi children.

Later that day we ran into a crowd of children in a village. They smiled and pointed at us. When they came closer, we took pictures with them and taught them how to use our cameras. It was then that I first saw the effects of the healing process with my own eyes, the happiness and acceptance of the new generation.

At the Learning Center, an institution that provides English, music and computer classes for Rwandan youth, we met Kizito, a survivor, who watched his mother get raped and his siblings being burned alive in his house when he was a child.

His mother and brother survived the genocide, but his mother is now bed-ridden with HIV.

He traveled with us for most of our trip, and everyday it amazed me how he could look so happy, smiling and laughing with us, even with his painful past.

We visited other survivors who were willing to relive the pain and share their stories.

One woman said that she prayed every night for God to forgive her and to watch over her attackers. I was dumbstruck by her ability to pardon those who had wanted to kill her. Her prosthetic eye rested on me as she said, “Thank you for coming to learn.”

Another survivor’s story was truly heartbreaking. At 82 years old, she had survived two major genocides in 1959 and 1994.

All of her six children were killed, and she lives with one grandchild. She remembers having lost at least 1,000 people in both genocides, all of whom she knew by name.

What affected me most from her story was the fate of one of her daughters. The woman’s daughter was a Tutsi who married a Hutu man before the genocide. Together, they had a mixed child. When the genocide began, the Hutu son-in-law killed the Tutsi daughter and grandchild. The son-in-law has recently been released from prison and taunts the woman in the streets of her village.

One of the most uncensored genocide memorials made it apparent to me that, under the healing, the scars still remain.

Murambi Genocide Memorial is a picturesque university that never opened and now showcases the preserved bodies of victims killed there. In the bodies laid down side by side, I could see the wounds, the machete cuts and the forms these people were in as they died. Some have their arms above their face, blocking their attacker even in death. Seeing these bodies was the final step in my realizing the sheer brutality of this genocide, merely 20 years ago.

On the way to Musanze, where we would go gorilla trekking, we visited a school for the deaf. Even though they couldn’t hear the music, they danced to our laughter. As we blew balloons and bubbles, they looked happy. I recalled something that each survivor had been telling us throughout our trip. Education is the way to prevent a future genocide and provide a hopeful future for Rwanda through its younger generation.

The last night yielded a spectacular lightning storm less than five miles away. The sky lit up an electric purple as the night wind blew around us. We watched from the hotel balcony as the thunder boomed.
It was another experience that was purely Rwandan, something I couldn’t witness back home in Los Angeles.

The day we went gorilla trekking, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. The hike through the Rwandan jungle was harsh, and the plants and insects foreign. But the first glimpse of the silverback gorilla made up for all the fears and worries.

The animals were not even five feet away. A baby with a missing foot came closer, and at one point he emptied his bladder on himself. Adolescents in the troop were playing, a mother was cradling her baby and the silverback was napping. It was amazing seeing these creatures who are genetically similar to us in their natural habitat. I had the feeling of being welcomed into their home as we observed them. I reflected back on my time in Rwanda, all the things I experienced and the new world view I had obtained on the hike back down the mountain. I was surprised by how much I had changed in the course of 10 days.

The bus ride back to Kigali was rushed, the possibility of missing our flight hanging over our heads. We arrived at Kigali International Airport, back where our adventure in Rwanda began, on time to make our flight. As I took one last photograph of the airport, I came to the conclusion of the thought process that I had begun on the hike down the mountain.

Somewhere along my journey, I fell in love with this country.

Rwanda and its culture accepted and changed the unlearned me into a cosmopolitan human being. 

Someday I wish to go back, experience more of the culture and help make the country’s goal of “never again” a reality.

Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

Student Reflections on Rwanda

Published February 24, 2014


This trip changed my life because now I view the world differently.  I experienced history first hand in a rare and exciting way.  I’ll never forget the people I met and the stories they told.  The things the Rwandan people went through were horrific and should never happen to another country.  Seeing the bodies of the victims made my skin crawl.  These images make me want to become more active in global affairs to help prevent future genocides or conflicts.  I felt more engaged going to Rwanda than just learning about their history in a classroom.  The people were so loving and welcoming that it’s hard to believe such a horrible event happened there.  I have become more humble and learned to forgive people more easily.  I’m really glad I went on this once in a lifetime trip.  If I didn’t, I would have missed out on the opportunity to meet people who have truly impacted my life.

–Kennedy Long

Our Amazing Group in Rwanda

Published January 30, 2014

Tribal dance honoring the cows.
Warrior dancer Noah.
One of 75 happy soccer ball recipients!
Journal writing and reflection at Murambi.
Singing ‘Lean on Me’ at the goat cooperative.
Goat cooperative gives new hope for HIV-positive women.
Lauren and Milo feed goats.
Jacob and Chris inspire another game.
Truth, Su Jin and Bunnies

This one almost came home with us!

Interviews on site.
Coles little buddy.
Mama, Milo and Nyamata survivor.

Our traveling troupe and beloved translators.

Dream team of chaperones.
Cheri Gaulke, Jeff Mac Intyre and Alethea Tyner Paradis

Photos from Rwanda

Published January 28, 2014

Milo and Noah help serve lunch at Aspire.
Mike, kids and bubbles.
Paul hugs a survivor.
Justin Carr would be proud.
Lauren gets cornrows.
Sampson goes native.
Katherine and Noah’s new friends.
African Dance Class.
Su Jin, Lauren and Sampson the brave.

Imani plays paddy-cake with a local girl.
Happy teachers!  Cheri Gaulke and Alethea Tyner Paradis

Day One in Rwanda

Published January 27, 2014

We arrive in Kigali under cover of darkness, and awake the next morning to a stunning view of ochre earth hills adorned with verdant green.

All the students are healthy, rested, enthusiastic for our explorations ahead.

Our first excursion is to the Kigali genocide museum.  Students questions are thoughtful, their observations sincerely revealing of active inquiry.  Noah remarks that the propaganda cartoons on display are in the French language, making the connection between the Franco-phone society and France’s support of the Hutu majority.  Jacob connects the exhibition comparing the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Armenia, Sudan, and the Holocaust to his own personal history.  He recalls when his grandfather, a survivor, emotionally broke down at an Israeli exhibit which depicted a killer that he knew personally.  “I wish I had talked to my grandfather about his experiences before he died.”  Lauren is taking copious journal notes, deeply immersed in thought.  Su Jin sits silently captivated in the lotus position in front of the photo exhibits on church massacres.  Katherine is moved by the ‘children’s room,” an exhibit detailing the deliberate targeting to Tutsi children during the genocide so as to eradicate the next generation.

At the Learning Center.

While the visit to the museum is sobering, the students transform the moment into a journalistic opportunity: interviewing the on site program director, they ask intelligent questions, imploring Mr. Bonheur Pacifique to share his insights about the ways in which he hopes the genocide museum will prevent further atrocities.
Following lunch, the group disperses in two directions: I take students to the market cooperative where they may try their talents at bargaining for handicrafts. Jeff and Cheri take another group to the site of a music video film set. Upon reconvening, we find ourselves together in a little village where the small children are fascinated by our digital cameras. It’s a moment of cross cultural unity, where laughter and silliness is the only shared language we need.

Nina and her new Rwandan friends.
Playtime with our digital cameras!
Chris and Jacob give photography lessons.
“Safari Paul” looking stylish.
Kennedy clowning for the crowds.

And They’re Off! Harvard Westlake Students Travel to Rwanda

Published January 24, 2014

Harvard Westlake students gather prior to departure for Rwanda.

Harvard Westlake Upper School students are embarking on a one-of-kind educational trip to Rwanda.  For ten days the group will explore the beauty, healing and fascinating stories of Rwanda, a country preparing to recognize the 20-year anniversary of a genocide which claimed nearly one million lives.