Magazine article ASEE Prism

Up from Tragedy

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Up from Tragedy

Article excerpt

THERESE KANKINDI, a wrinkled, rail-thin widow of 70, was comforting her 5-month-old granddaughter when we met in late spring 1994 at a crowded refugee camp redolent of wood-fire smoke and wet earth. The baby, Carita, suffered indigestion from her new diet of corn porridge, having been abruptly yanked off breast milk when soldiers shot her mother to death in the unfolding Rwanda genocide targeting minority Tutsis. Kankindi, seeing two daughters killed and the church where her family had sought protection become a charnel house, picked up Carita and fled on foot with two sons toward neighboring Burundi, pursued like quarry by soldiers and machete-wielding thugs. One of her sons was hacked to death en route.

One could easily imagine Kankindi being immobilized by grief and shock. Instead, an enduring memory of my reporting assignment in Rwanda and Burundi at the time is of her cheerfulness. Life, she told me, "is sweet." Other surviving Rwandans proved similarly resilient. Digne Rwabuhungu, whose brother was killed in the genocide, returned in 1995 to join five other lecturers in rebuilding an engineering department at the National University of Rwanda (NUR). They started from "zero," with no paper and no computers, he told our correspondent Don Boroughs, and were paid in food rations.

Sixteen years later, this land of a thousand hills is harnessing the tools to leap from its mostly agrarian past into the 21st-century knowledge economy. As Boroughs reports in our cover story, NUR may have the most advanced computer lab of any school in Africa. …

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