Friday, November 6, 2009

Countdown to Rwanda: Less than 2 Months to Go!

In less than two months, I will leave virtually everything I know behind to live and teach high school math and science in Rwanda for an entire year! I am beyond thrilled!

This sure-to-be-epic journey will be coordinated through WorldTeach, a non-profit organization sponsored by Harvard's Center for International Development. I will be employed as a volunteer teacher through WorldTeach and Rwanda's Ministry of Education. Although some of the WorldTeach programs are paying positions, the year-long Rwanda program is not. I am currently fundraising to pay my $6000 program fee, which includes the cost of round-trip airfare, health insurance, a monthly stipend comparable to a typical Rwandan teacher’s salary, and field support. It is my hope that I will be able to fundraise additional money so that I may take along educational supplies and equipment (there is a good chance that I can get donated microscopes, but I must still pay to ship them)!

The recent history of Rwanda is a dark one. It’s been fifteen years since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu Power regime over a 100 day period. In researching for my trip to Rwanda, the genocide’s legacy seems to be all-pervasive. I’ve recently been reading studies on post-traumatic stress disorder and the use of various forms of therapy in the aftermath of the genocide.

One of the most promising therapies is narrative exposure therapy (NET), through which survivors detail the events of their traumas, essentially reliving their nightmares and reexperiencing all of the emotions associated with them. Studies have shown that this intense therapy results in habituation of the emotional response associated with the trauma, thus mitigating PTSD symptoms. Many studies have shown that short-term NET is more effective than traditional psychotherapy in treating PTSD, while at the same time being cost-effective and relatively simple to use, even by laymen. Any kind of administration of therapy is certainly outside of my job description, but considering that many of the students I will be teaching are surviving orphans of the genocide, it might be a good idea for me to have an understanding of mental health issues that I am likely to encounter. How does one return to normalcy after living through hell on earth? Will these children, who are most certainly haunted by this country’s ugly past, be able to thrive in the classroom and in the community?

As if these children haven’t been faced with enough challenges in their lives, many deal with the day-to-day reality of being infected with HIV. Superstitions and misinformation regarding HIV abound; therefore, proper education is imperative! The lives of these children literally depend upon the quality of HIV/AIDS education that they receive, if any. The opportunity to be involved in the formation of an HIV/AIDS education class is one of the most significant reasons that I applied to this program. My greatest passions are the study of emerging infectious diseases, vector-transmitted diseases (malaria), virology (HIV/AIDS, yellow fever), and parasitology (elephantiasis, river blindness). I’m hoping that I will be able to both learn and educate about disease prevention, pathology, and epidemiology during my stay.

Since I will be living in relative cultural and geographical isolation without friends or family or my usual distractions of television and easy internet access, I have decided to use much of my downtime in Rwanda to study for my MCATs, so that I may apply to Penn State Hershey’s MD/PhD program upon my return.

I am very passionate about math and science (biology in particular) and I am so excited by the opportunity to teach in a country that is in such great need of English-speaking teachers as it switches its national language over to English. If you would like to support this teaching initiative by contributing funds toward my $6000 program fee, you may donate through (please specify that your donations are in support of Emma Eck), or you may donate directly to my home address: 349 N. West End Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603.

I encourage everyone to follow along with me on my journey as I continue to blog about the joys and challenges of teaching in Rwanda!


  1. Emma
    Are you familiar with the documentary, "As We Forgive"? It's about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.
    Here's a link to a review by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

  2. Hi Jerry! I'll definitely try to see that documentary before I leave. I know a little about the Rwandan genocide reconciliation process; the idea of a whole country finding healing through forgiveness seems like such a wonderful, but impossibly idealistic, concept.

  3. Hi Emma,

    I think this is a wonderful thing that you are doing. It is extremely selfless and brave of you to take on such a commitment.

    Good luck with your big adventure!

  4. This will be amazing...I'm excited for you! As for forgiveness, it is something all of humankind must learn if it is to survive.

  5. On the theme of forgiveness, I've just completed the lyrics of my Christmas song for 2009. I'll post them on my blog here soon.

  6. Emma
    The web address for As We Forgive is below.