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An African Teen Awaits a New Life - And I Suggest a New Requirement for Graduation from KU
This is almost the last day of African-American month. I am going to focus primarily on Africa, eventually bringing my story to KU.
Jean Claude Nshimyimana, from Rwanda, first came to the Bay Area on November 9, 2011, after waiting more than five years for all arrangements to fall into place for cleft palate surgery and reshaping his nose.
Now, three months later, he's had plenty of experience in the hospital. The first operation was to repair the cleft palate. The second was to reshape his nose, which was disfigured so badly that he only had a single nostril and his nose was almost flat to his face.
Can you imagine that he had never taken a shower or slept in a bed until he came to the United States? That the foods he ate, he grew himself - a root stew, beans, and potatoes - on the land where he lived with his grandmother. His mother died shortly after he was born. His father is imprisoned because of the Rwandan genocide.
He skipped school in Rwanda much of the time because he was so badly disfigured, and because his schoolmates harrassed him.
Now all that has changed following his surgeries. For many people, it takes courage to look at these photographs and imagine all that he went through to get to this point. He was brave to have these photographs taken and to share them with readers of the San Francisco Chronicle before he went back to Rwanda.
Click on the link and look at the photographs yourself, at the bottom of the page.
The operation also made the news coverage in Rwanda. You can look at back issues of The News (from Rwanda) to get an idea of what happens in Rwanda every week.
Now there are millions more of people just like him in the developing world. Yet at present they don't have much hope, despite, for example, all the money we are spending in this country for campaign politics - not to speak of start-ups in Silicon Valley, most of which are wasted, except to satisfy the notions of those who start and get the money to fund them.
If, instead, part of that money could go to education and health care in other countries, it would make such a difference.
Following the publication of this story, I happened to open the paper the same day and read it. How much I eventually discovered that I didn't know before!
I am more familiar with Africa than many Americans, but there's a lot about Africa that I knew nothing about. I knew, for example, the major languages of Rwanda - Kinyarwanda, French and English. I was also aware of some of the later history of Rwanda, including the genocide.
I knew that the population consisted mostly of Hutus, Tutsis and Twas, and these groups share common languages. Christianity is the largest religion in this country. I also was familiar with the beauty of this country.
But: I didn't really know much about the geography, and even less about the crops, how people live, what people really need in their lives, the real history of Rwanda - what life is really like there.
By proceeding to the internet and reading about Rwanda in detail, looking at back copies of the Rwandan News on the internet, and talking with individuals, I have now learned much more than I ever knew before. As a result of this story, my life has changed, opening a new portion of Africa to me.
Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with Jean Claude Nshimyimana while he was in the United States. But there are thousands more like him who have similar problems. Because of a physical deformity, they are not able to live their lives in any satisfactory way.
For example, look at the following web site:
From Africa and the Bay Area, I now come to KU. KU is still important to me after all this time. As a result, I want to suggest changes at KU (and elsewhere in local and regional schools): a new requirement for graduation from KU.
Years earlier, when I was at KU, I never knew or thought much about other areas of the world. Of course, at that time, the internet wasn't there - but there was Watson Library. And I used the library a lot to organize my research in French literature - but I never took it further, in order to find out about other countries from around the world, or even to find out about modern day France.
But today things are different from some years ago, and I suggest a way to partly remedy this problem. When students first arrive at KU, each student could take a charity or organization of their choice, or develop one, and put in the time necessary to make a difference with that charity and the people it serves. Peoples' lives would be completely changed as a result of this work.
I think it should be a necessary part for each year a student is at KU, and it should be required in order to get a degree. For many, the experiences it gives will continue throughout life. On the other hand, many other classes at KU will have been forgotten shortly after the degree is given.
It should be an important part of what KU students do from the first moment they come to Lawrence to receive an education. Once they arrive, they could meet other KU students who have similar interests, and come together in groups, either online or (better) in person to meet regularly. They would eventually have to learn a foreign language - and it would make sense to do so, because they would now be working with students from a country which speaks that language.
They could also learn a second profession which would help others. They could take courses in learning basic medicine, or they could get experience with basic engineering, the law, farmers or teachers. Students who wish to learn basic farming, for example, could go to K-State for a semester or two, just as K-State students who wished to know subjects KU teaches could come to KU for a semester or two.
Later in life, this learning could make a huge difference! Students might travel abroad, or they could stay here - but it would be a major group of people as time went on, and they could make a tremendous difference, eventually, throughout the whole world!
If everyone who graduated from KU learned the basics of a second profession, their impact would be felt greatly in many places. The new medical school in Salina, for example, might be well placed for this kind of effort for basic medical training.
And it shouldn't end or begin with KU. This kind of training should be required for all state universities and colleges in Kansas. Many private schools would welcome it, too. There is no reason why people of all ages could not eventually take part.
The state could even have a new license plate - the first in the country. "The Volunteer State" is already taken - but surely another name - "Making a Difference throughout the World", for example - could be chosen.
I will be talking in a later blog with a young American who did just that - he went to a country in Africa, and ended up doing all kinds of things that are usually done only by doctors. But there was only one doctor in the whole clinic. Since that time he has been accepted to medical school.
Students would have the opportunity to associate with all kinds of people while they are KU students, both here and in surrounding states. After my experience at KU, I had to go to West Germany with the army, to really begin to learn about the world. When I came back, I found that most other students I knew from my earlier days in Lawrence knew very little about the rest of the world, and most didn't care.
I, on the other hand, had been to almost every country in Europe, including Yugoslavia, Morocco and Turkey. I came back to Lawrence with a completely different way of looking at things.
This would form what I think should be a major part of African-American month. February could be about taking new steps get to know people of a different race and nationality - while at the same time acquiring a second profession which could be useful in so many parts of the world.
And it could all begin here in Kansas.
I will be writing about other subjects within Africa in the coming months, including a guest writer who lives in The Gambia. Among other things, he will be talking about the importance that soccer plays in many African people's lives.
I will also be interviewing a southern Sudanese student, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
I would like to hear from other individuals from Africa, who are in Kansas, Missouri, and the surrounding states. Contact me at email@example.com.
There is a real future which awaits us, but as life goes on, it is rarely what we thought it would be while we were in college. It's time that "doing things for others" - charity - takes a major role in every student's life.
We have opened the borders to trade from many other countries - but we still have to open the door for many young people, who don't have the slightest idea about what exists outside of the United States.
And, by the way, I want to wish Jean Claude Nshimyimana much good fortune in his future!
Photographs courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle