The recent arrest of three Rwandan students in India for allegedly eve teasing an Indian woman is one of the indications that Rwandans abroad get little or no awareness before they embark on a journey to a foreign country.
Rwandans at home and abroad have reacted differently after the trio was on January 3, arrested on allegations of using vulgar words against Ashish Sharma, 35, in the South West of India.
The students from Punjab University insist they met Sharma on road and asked her for directions but were surprised to be arrested about an hour later.
According to John from Kerala, India, there is some information that students or any Rwandan travelling to India must know before setting foot in the country of the Taj Mahal.
“It’s actually difficult even asking a female (Indian female) for directions at any given time,” he wrote to The New Times on January 5.
John added, “This is because women here live under terror. They do not trust anyone and since they were males asking for directions I can understand what she might have experienced. It’s not okay to stop a woman and talk to her on any Indian street.”
But Fernandes Clarence, an Indian who understands both the Rwandan and Indian cultures, says the three students released on bail on Saturday, will be found innocent when their case comes up in court on January 17 because they did nothing wrong.
Clarence told The New Times that it is not wrong to ask for directions but emotions were high because a 23-year-old woman was gang raped late in December and died 12 days later.
These are contradictory arguments but the real question that needs to be answered is, are students – or other Rwandans – going abroad given enough orientation about the countries that they are visiting?
According to Louise Karamaga, the Deputy Director General of Rwanda Education Board (REB) in charge of High Education Student Loan Department, commonly known as SFAR, Rwandans in general, and students in particular, need minimum information on culture before they go to any country.
“We used to brief the students on academic-related issues only because we are understaffed and the scholarship process is demanding. We then entrusted the students and their parents to learn the culture and social life of the country they intend to visit,” she said, adding that embassies and high commissions in the country the students are visiting sometimes help them integrate.
In India for example, the High Commissioner of Rwanda to India, Williams Nkurunziza ensures that they reach every school or institution that teaches Rwandan students to talk about the new culture.
But Karamaga believes more needs to be done as far as REB is concerned. With less than 20 staff, Karamaga said they have requested for more personnel and will create a department charged with monitoring the welfare of students in the Diaspora.
Help from parents
The department will be also in charge of gathering basic information so that students are not ignorant about the culture of a given country.
While REB has so far registered 1,030 with government bursaries, Parfait Gahamanyi, the Director General in charge of Rwandans living abroad in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation said a greater number register in universities abroad on their own, without leaving contacts with the ministry.
Gahamanyi argues that students though should seek information on a country they go to, from embassies or from the Internet if Rwanda is not diplomatically represented in that country.
Other sources also intimated to The New Times that it is very important for not only the government, but also for the parents and guardians to prepare their children before they embark on studies abroad.
Apart from India, some Rwandans abroad, either students or not, have experienced one problem or another.
But Gahamanyi said that when they report such incidets, the government tries to intervene.
He says, for example, on February 5, 2011, 44 Rwandans living in Egypt were evacuated due to the political unrest that was taking place in the north African country.
“As the war is prevailing in Central Africa Republic, we have been working closely with our embassy in Nigeria so that Rwandans in CAR can be helped,” disclosed Gahamanyi, who added that they recently helped a Rwandan facing threats from her Nigerian husband return to Kigali.