President Paul Kagame has hailed the decade long partnership between Rwanda and Oklahoma Christian University terming it a valuable lesson on the power of human relationships and shared values to drive change and sustain ambitions.
The president was speaking at a dinner reception hosted in celebration of the 10year partnership with the University. The dinner was also attended by First Lady Jeanette Kagame.
Both the President and the First Lady are honorary alumni of Oklahoma Christian University having received honorary doctorates from the main campus of the institution.
He termed the 10 year partnership as one of the most meaningful and productive the country has enjoyed with a higher learning institution around the world.
“The relationship with Oklahoma Christian University is without doubt among the most productive and meaningful that we enjoy with institutions of higher learning around the world. In our view, that strength comes from the shared character traits and positive mindsets that we recognized in each other from the onset and which we seek to instill in our young people,” he said.
Over the 10 year period, 421 Rwandan students have had access to education from the American university. Out of the total, 201 have studied in the Oklahoma City campus while 220 students were enrolled in the University’s MBA programme in Kigali.
The two parties developed close ties and partnership in 2004 following a visit by a team from Oklahoma Christian composed of the university’s trustee Richard Lawson as well as the then University President Mike O’Neal.
From the visit, the University learnt the course that Rwanda was taking and devised ways to make a sustainable and long term contribution.
Kagame described the meeting as ‘of minds and hearts’ given its long term impact.
“They saw what we were trying to do in Rwanda and how Oklahoma Christian University could make a real difference. Most importantly, they understood that our approach was fundamentally value based much like Oklahoma Christian’s educational philosophy. It was therefore a meeting of both minds and hearts and under Mike’s leadership, Oklahoma Christian took immediate action,” the president said.
Following their visit to Rwanda, in 2006 the Presidential Scholarship was launched sending the first 10 students to study in Oklahoma. This initial batch went on to build a strong bond between the country and the Oklahoma community as they were hosted by host families.
“The first Rwandans who went to Oklahoma Christian did not just live in dormitories, they stayed with host families and became part of a home and over time we saw that these families had come to love their children as their own. Thank you to all of the Oklahoma family,” Kagame recalled.
Kagame praised the university’s alumni for working hard despite some of their struggles to catch up academically and linguistically.
Their success, he said, was more than an individual feat as it has opened doors for more beneficiaries in the country and is set to further benefit more people.
“It is important to understand how crucial this is in our country’s context. Success is never just about the individual who achieves it. When each of us performs at our best, we create new possibilities for others that may not otherwise exist. By showing that Rwandans could not only compete but excel, you showed that opportunities you enjoyed would multiple and continue to be available in the future,” the head of state told the alumni.
The alumni have since come together to form an association which has launched a scholarship fund to help bright students in the country get education from the same university.
As alumni of the university, Kagame said that together with the First Lady, they would contribute to the course.
Going forward, he said that the partnership would continue to in coming years and that the government would do its best to ensure productivity of the partnership.
“The story is a valuable lesson on the power of human relationships and shared values to drive change and sustain ambitions. One of the traits we share is tenacity in the traits of adversity, our respective experience has taught us that you can come from Rwanda, Oklahoma or anywhere else and strive to be among the best. That is why it is important for us to continue on this journey together for years to come. We will do our best within our means to ensure that this relationship continues to be a productive one,” he said.
Mike O’Neal, the former president of the university and the current Chancellor of the University of Rwanda said that their choice of Rwanda as a partner was informed by multiple shared traits including resilience, ambition and determination.
He said that the university was driven to make a positive contribution having learnt of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the country’s zeal to progress in multiple fronts.
He challenged the alumni to put into practice their lessons from the institution to solve the country’s challenges and facilitate development both in the private and public sectors.
Speaking on behalf of her fellow alumni, Aline Kabanda, the managing director of Akilah Women’s Institute said that the partnership of the two parties had opened an opportunity for hundreds of young people to access education and in turn serve their country.
Graduates from the university serve across multiple fields in the country including ICT, management, media, creative industry, water and sanitation health and aviation among others.