When Agaciro came to America
This is an unlikely place in the United States where you would expect to find young, ambitious Rwandan students.
It is in the heartland of America’s agricultural belt. To get there, you have to cross miles and miles of farmland. There is no eye-catching or memorable landmark along the way. The only things you will see are the farmhouses dotted around the countryside – all so indistinguishable from each other – and clouds of white dust from pickup trucks speeding on the dirt roads branching off the main road into the farms. Then you come to William Penn University in Oskaloosa, a rural town in Iowa.
And here you will find, not one, but several Rwandans studying for degrees in various disciplines. All have big dreams and ambitious plans for themselves and their country. For them the future is bright and beckoning and they are eager to step into it, grasp the opportunities available and make a mark on the world.
One such Rwandan student at William Penn is Jean Chrisostome Bikomeye who has just earned a degree in health and life sciences and wants eventually to be a doctor. His story, as he told it, and undoubtedly similar to that of his colleagues at the university, is essentially the story of the new Rwanda.
The refusal to give in to despair and the vow to overcome the odds and succeed mark today’s Rwandans from those of several decades ago. So does the eagerness to seize every opportunity available in order to advance.
The thinking that nothing is insurmountable where there is the will, drive and belief is now a given. Bikomeye took high school level English lessons when he realised that limited knowledge of the language was affecting his lessons. The lessons were so successful he did well in class and now tries to speak English with a Midwestern accent.
The new way is not to seek knowledge for its own sake, but to use it to answer Rwanda’s development issues. Bikomeye and other students personify this spirit. They already have plans for improving agricultural production in the country. The Iowa rural experience obviously has some value.
Hearing Bikomeye tell his story of courage and resilience, of determination and search for practical answers to his country’s challenges brought to the eye tears of joy and pride. – the new Rwanda is finally, firmly here.
Bikomeye’s story and his presence at William Penn University is Rwanda’s story in another sense.
It embodies the readiness to go wherever what will benefit Rwanda can be found. It doesn’t matter whether it can be got in the big cities of the East or West Coast, or the small towns of middle America, or indeed anywhere else in the world.
Cooperation and collaboration with various institutions and nations is a key element in Rwanda’s policy. As President Paul Kagame said in his commencement (graduation) speech at William Penn University last Saturday, collaboration in different fields is the best guarantee for the survival of the human race. And for Rwanda, it is an issue of self-interest.
In the ambition to modernise, education has been identified as crucial. This, of course, explains the rapid educational expansion in the country and why there are so many cooperation agreements with different schools to educate young Rwandans. It is the reason Bikomeye and colleagues came to Oskaloosa. I bet this is the first time some of you have heard the name and I am sure you are likely to forget it almost immediately. Not so the young Rwandans whose future is tied up with it.
Rwanda is not Rwanda without agaciro. Individual and collective worth, like the flag, national anthem and court of arms, has become a national symbol and definition of what being Rwandan is. It has brought a new step in the way we walk, how we carry ourselves and given us huge confidence.
And last Saturday President Kagame brought agaciro to America. He told his audience that it is the very definition of being human, embodying values such as common decency and value for the lives of others, and that it is indispensable to Rwanda’s development efforts. He left them with some of our agaciro.
Bikomeye and his friends at William Penn University and those at other schools came to America in search of an education. They got that. They came with dreams about the future they wished for. They are going away with plans of the future they are going to make. But in the true spirit of reciprocity, they are leaving Americans with something of their own – agaciro.
Contact email: jorwagatare[at]yahoo.co.uk, josephrwagatare.wordpress.com