Rwanda: Lessons in Resilience, Community & Hope

Learnlife's transformative Rwanda trip offers learners a rare opportunity to build deep cultural and socio-emotional learning.
Rwanda: Lessons in Resilience, Community & Hope

As a pinnacle of Learnlife's Intensives programme, this April, a group of learners and families embarked on a 10-day journey to Rwanda, a trip that transcended the conventional bounds of a mere school trip. 

This immersive cultural journey into the heart of Rwandan life offered more than just sightseeing; it was a transformative experience which offered unparalleled access to local communities. Through uniquely personal encounters, learners gleaned profound insights into resilience, forgiveness, and the human spirit. 

Organised by Learnlife’s Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer Stephen Harris, the trip offers a cultural experience far off the typical tourism path. 

Stephen has spent the last 20 years visiting the country and cultivating deep personal relationships there. These personal ties have given Learnlife the rare opportunity to create a deep cultural immersion experience for its learners. 

Embarking on a journey to Rwanda is more than just a voyage across borders; it's a profound immersion into a nation with a history both harrowing and hopeful, a land of breathtaking landscapes and resilient people.

Africa’s smallest nation, Rwanda, is approximately the size of the U.S. state of Maryland or the country of Belgium for a European reference point. Although small, it nevertheless offers great opportunities for cultural and conservation tourism, including visiting its endangered mountain gorillas. 

Yet, its complicated political history also offers another kind of learning experience that teaches important lessons about history and humanity. 

Knowing Rwanda's history is essential to understanding it deeply, in all its forms. Its history is marked by complex socio-political dynamics, notably culminating in the tragic genocide of 1994. 

Before colonisation, Rwanda was a kingdom characterised by a hierarchical social structure. Since the 1920s, Belgian colonial rule exacerbated ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Rwanda itself became an independent nation in 1962, however the seeds of internal division were already sown.

Post-independence, political instability persisted, culminating in the genocide where over one million Rwandans lost their lives in just 100 days, an estimated 800,000 of which were Tutsis.

During the trip, learners and their families were educated on this tragedy and the historical contexts that led to it. They had the opportunity to hear firsthand from survivors about their experiences and learn about the remarkable journey of reconciliation and renewal that defines Rwanda.

Even for mature learners, these lessons can be challenging to grapple with and raise more questions than answers. 

Learners came away with a deeper understanding of empathy and humanity than any learning experience could provide. 

Beyond the tourist path

While there were profound lessons on war and personal tragedy, the tour was defined by positivity and hope. 

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, something the group experienced during their time in the capital city of Kigali. There, learners enjoyed absorbing the chaotic rhythms of life in the streets, especially the markets, practising their negotiating skills and learning about handcrafted goods. 

Rwanda's small size also made it possible for the group to travel a fair distance, taking in a variety of landscapes, from the cities to the remote countryside. 

Many in the group mentioned the two-day safari as a particular highlight, as was their visit to Volcanoes National Park, home to the country’s endangered gorillas. They also visited a cultural centre and participated in traditional drumming and dancing. 

In addition to typical tourism experiences, the group accessed unique cultural connections, including visiting a community centre and learning how it supports local needs through programmes on women’s empowerment and university prep. They also visited a school in a remote part of the province, where they learned about Rwandans’ access to education. 


But, perhaps the most impactful learning came from a series of workshops provided by Stephen’s friends. 

These workshops allowed learners to learn directly from Rwandans in a hands-on way about their passions and their work, and where the two coincide.

With Dolph, the illustrator of a series of children’s books that Stephen has written, learners were introduced to the process of character development and illustration. 

Another talented Rwandan, a mute artist, taught the group, through unconventional methods, how to paint a mountain. 

An unexpected highlight was a pottery workshop with Delphine and Vincent, during which the group learned about pottery and practised the challenging art of wheel throwing.

The lesson ran particularly deep in this workshop when they heard Delphine’s story. Delphine is the sole survivor of a family of seven. All of her siblings, parents and wider family members were killed in the genocide. 

Delphine recounted to the group how she survived potential death almost five times over a period of two weeks during the genocide. She was just a little girl.

“That included escaping miraculously from one of the incidents where thousands were sheltering in a Catholic church, only to be betrayed and slaughtered,” Stephen says.

“Delphine answered a question about how she appeared so calm, composed and gracious now. She talked about the power of forgiveness, optimism and peace.”

Innovation Director and trip leader Devin Carberry explains,

“With Rwanda, it's quite clear that the purpose is to heal, to restore, and to come together in a way that strengthens deeply the relationships people have with each other, and that happens in a variety of ways that I think are models to the rest of the world.”

Alijosha Schultz, whose sons Lorenzo and Luigi were also on the trip, spoke about how the experience hit particularly close to home for him.

“Coming from a German background where we also, a generation before us, were perpetrators of incredible genocide, I found it really amazing to see how Rwanda dealt with this path and memorialises it. It is really working towards the future. It shows that the two populations that have fought each other can live in peace,” Alijosha says.  

A Lesson in community


In addition to the powerful lessons about survival, learners gained new ways of understanding work, creativity and personal gratification.

In addition to being invited to see how Rwandans work, the group was also invited into the homes of Stephen’s friends to share meals and hear stories of their lives.

“For me, what made it really special and really beautiful was actually getting to meet some locals, being welcomed into people's homes and seeing where they live and how an average Rwandan goes about their daily life.

"What made it really, really special was hearing their stories and their take on life and their expectations, their wishes, their concerns,” explains Yajaira, one of the parents on the trip.

Rwanda teaches many lessons, but one of the most valuable is about community. Rwandans' everyday lives are particularly rooted in community, which has shaped their lives since the genocide.

Once a month, the entire nation engages in Umuganda, a community service day developed by the government to help unite Rwandans after the genocide. Community is further strengthened through the country’s unique governing system, which allows village members to report key issues, amplifying community voice.

“The kids picked up on this vibe of what it means to be deeply rooted in community,” says Devin.

“They learned what it looks like to be deeply connected to the people in that place and to have [both] your family and the larger Rwandan community. And I think that's where post-genocide, we see a country that's found a shared purpose.”

“People walk down the streets in Rwanda with big happy smiles on their faces, and they all form a community and help each other out,” says Emma, one of the learners on the trip.

Parents, too, keenly felt the lessons in community that the trip offered.

“I was very, very moved by their sense of community. It makes me realise how disconnected we've become in Western societies from the people closest to us, like our families and our neighbours. But we're also disconnected from [our community] and the contributions that we can make to our community,” Yajaira explains. 

Opening up new perspectives and sparking change


At its best, travel should open up new perspectives and spark change.

Having the opportunity to engage in the rich, transformative experience of cultural immersion was not lost on the group.

“I do feel [an experience like this] does enrich our lives a lot, not just the learners, but also the adults who got to join in the trip, Yajaira explains.

“I think being exposed to such a different way of life at such an early age and in an environment which provides enough exposure but is still protective is really unique."

“For example, my daughter [now] understands that poverty is not a choice and poverty is not linked to your own perspective and neither is wealth. Learning that, ‘Aren't we all worth dignity? And aren't we all worth opportunity?’ was very important for them to see.”

The deep learning presented by the trip was also marked by the simple joys of engaging with a new landscape.

The safari was, unsurprisingly, a highlight for many. But even smaller joys, like early morning runs in the mountains, taking in breathtaking views from an island near the Ugandan border, forging new friendships, and simply seeing a different way of living, were all part of what made the trip a truly transformative experience.

“I saw how creative people can be with so few resources. That changed me–to see value in many things,” Lorenzo says. 

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