Sometimes it takes students to help other students. Even if they’re half a world apart.
Just ask Jessica Liao.
Liao, a Medical Science/Political Science student, has been a mainstay with the Students Rebuilding Health in Rwanda (SRHIR) since her second-year at Western. As president of the student-run charity, which collaborates with Western faculty and staff to enhance the skills and knowledge of health professionals in Rwanda, Liao views her organization as an opportunity to get involved internationally.
While a bit embarrassed to admit it today, Liao had no idea genocide had occurred in Rwanda prior to being part of SRHIR.
“It was such a devastating disaster and no one really seemed to care. A lot of countries ignored the fact,” said Liao of the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people in the east African nation. “It really hit me the wrong way and I felt I didn’t want this happening again. We can always learn from our errors and (Rwanda’s) political infrastructure is much better now, which is why I’m comfortable in knowing the money we raise is going toward where it should.”
In the past, the student group has raised funds for computer labs so Rwandan students can attend online lectures. But, Liao admitted, the value of technology depletes over time. “It’s one thing to raise funds, but to simply throw money into infrastructure, you don’t know how successful it will be,” she said.
So, the group’s most-recent fundraising idea took more of a grassroots approach – a new scholarship, Students Moving Students.
“As students, we pay our tuition and are aware of the value of our education,” Liao said. “I wanted our beliefs in education to reflect on the changes that are going to be able to have long-term effects. By investing in someone’s education we are able to see that progression. Ideas and knowledge never depreciate in value.”
So the group did just that.
By raising $2,000 through a coffee house, movie night and other events, the group was able to assist Rwandan student Jean-Baptiste Ndahiriwe in pursuing his masters in medical imaging in Belgium.
“There are medical imaging machines in Rwanda going unused because no one knows how to operate them properly,” Liao said. “(Ndahiriwe) will not only learn but will be able to educate others when he returns and share his knowledge and skills.”
Anatomy & Cell Biology professor David Cechetto, who has been involved with the university’s Rebuilding Health in Rwanda project for more than a decade, acted as a liaison and personally handed Ndahiriwe the money raised by the Western organziation. In return, Ndahiriwe taped a video message of thanks to the students.
While there is still plenty of work to be done in Rwanda, Liao encourages others to learn more and appreciate how far the country has come in almost two decades.
“It’s been 18 years, but look at the progression; they have nurses and X-ray machines in hospitals, students are going overseas to pursue graduate studies and bringing that knowledge back to Rwanda to educate more people,” she said. “We all believe in the power of education and have learned so many lessons by getting involved.”