Rwanda Project USVI began its life in early spring 2008 when a group of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School students asked their teacher and advisor, Barbara Young, to help them find a way to go to Rwanda to meet the 9-year-old orphan they were sponsoring by paying her school fees.
Young, with the help of first lady Cecile deJongh and the generosity of the Virgin Islands community got that first group of young people to Rwanda that summer.
The group of 11 Virgin Islands teenagers painted, hauled rocks, dug in the dirt, served meals, changed diapers, danced, sang and played with children of all ages across the tiny country in equatorial East Africa.
As the women observed the connections being made between the V.I. teens and the Rwandan children Young, de Jongh, and co-founder Shaun Pennington, knew the project could not stop there. And not just because of the connections between the children, but also the given the similar cultures and shared values.
So, the three returned to establish Rwanda Project USVI as a 501 C 3.
The project grew in 2010 when 10 more students completed applications and pressed to make the trip.
Through relationships formed in 2008, the second group went even deeper into the culture and country, spending a week in a remote village in the foothills of the largest mid range rain forest in Africa and moving on to another village where they completed a local Rotary club supported water project, helped build a mud brick house for a homeless woman and several orphans and prepared the land for a community garden.
Rwanda’s miraculous resurrection after a brutal genocide in 1994 decimated the country, along with its resilient people, spirited children and progressive social and ecological movements makes this mountainous land a fertile learning ground for our young people.
Living and working in villages alongside people who do not know what electricity is; dancing, laughing and trading stories with children who long only for an education provides a life changing experience. The return on investment is incalculable.
The exceptional teens who choose to make this trip into the heart of Africa are changed forever. They will be the leaders. They will understand life in a whole new way. The dreams they have now will materialize as they move along their varied paths with a new way of seeing.