Published in The Futon Sun 8/22/2012
By KATHERINE CUMMINS
Hannah Minchow-Proffitt knew before she left Kibungo, Rwanda last summer that she would be back to Fulton and Callaway County's sister community.
Having just returned from her second trip as part of a group of 10 volunteers, Minchow-Proffitt - who works in Westminster College's Emerson Center for Leadership and Service - said Kibungo is now in her blood.
"It is one of those infectious places - I knew it wasn't going to be my last trip there before I even left the first time," she said. "For me, returning it was rewarding to see familiar places and faces so far from home and having people remember you and say, 'You really did come back!'
"It's become part of my life."
With days spent volunteering with other representatives of the Rwanda Community Partnership and Humanity for Children at orphanages and hospitals and furthering relationships with the residents of Kibungo, Minchow-Proffitt said the highlight of her second visit was solidifying her connection with the locals.
"I think my favorite part was going to the Presbyterian church," she said. "They asked me the night before if I would give my faith narrative.
"It allowed me to realize how this trip has impacted that aspect of my life as well."
Sam Mayne, a 2012 Fulton High School graduate who traveled to Rwanda for the first time this July, said he also made some strong connections during his trip.
"I think the highlight of my trip was one day when I went out and played a game of soccer with some guys. I felt like I made some friends that day," Mayne said. "It was just human-to-human contact and it really felt like I got to know those guys."
Emily Vreeland, a Westminster senior from Independence, cited two such "human-to-human" interactions as the best parts for her as well.
"At the beginning of the trip we went to a village, we have a pig project there. It seemed like most of the village came out to greet us, and they were so excited," Vreeland said. "Even if you can't understand the language, you made a connection with them. It was wonderful getting to see their houses, getting to know them more."
Even more special to Vreeland was getting the opportunity before they left to dance with the Masai women.
"They had given us these big necklaces and they invited us to the middle of the circle and it was just a big celebration," she said. "It was indescribable."
Vreeland said she decided to go to Rwanda after working with Dr. Bob Hansen, who started the partnership with help from Humanity for Children, and hearing stories from other Westminster students and staff who had been.
"This is what I hope to do in the future," she said.
After several years of participating locally in the Youth in Rwanda Partnership, Mayne said he wanted to go to Rwanda for similar reasons - because "I thought it would be a really good way to experience what it's like and get a little better global picture."
"I also really just wanted to help people. I just have kind of been raised to want to help other people," Mayne said. "As a scout, I've pledged for 12 years to help people, and I really like to see other cultures."
He said he got the opportunity to achieve both of those goals, meeting with members of the Kibungo community, talking about projects that already have been started and are planned for the future, meeting with microloan groups and "just interacting with the people."
"I never really understood just how uncertain life can be over there," Mayne said of his experience. "(For example) the power was not guaranteed - it was out for several days - and water pressure, simple things we take for granted."
He said the time spent in Rwanda helped reinforce some of his plans for after college.
"It kind of cemented in my mind that I plan to go into the Peace Corps for a year or two after college," Mayne said. "We really have so much to offer, and these people are living off so little. I feel like it's our job to help as best we can."