Henri Boyi , 2012 Western Humanitarian Award Winner
It was with great pleasure I learned a few weeks ago Henri Boyi received the Western Humanitarian Award. I nominated Henri for the award last semester during my short stint as acting chair of the Department of French Studies, and unlike the many small and not-so-small duties one has to do in that role, I felt this was one that really meant something, especially if it was going to be successful.
Henri has long been involved in humanitarian causes locally and internationally, for which he has been recognized with awards such as the Black History Month Appreciation Award in Recognition of Outstanding Leadership and Devotion to His Community in February 2005, and the 2008 London’s Mayor’s New Year’s Honours List for Humanitarianism.
Three years ago, Henri brought his humanitarian work home to Western where internationalization efforts were beginning to take centre stage, and the university as a whole was showing a growing interest in experiential learning. He thus saw a tremendous opportunity to share his knowledge and experience of humanitarian work with Western students, as well as a means to transmit to them his passion for helping people in need. He introduced Experiential Learning in Rwanda, a course that has been a tremendous success at every level since its inception.
Based in the Department of French Studies, the course gives Western students an opportunity to learn about Rwandan society and about themselves, by serving in an international social and cultural setting through service learning activities and volunteer placements.
Before their trip to Rwanda, students are introduced in a classroom setting to the country’s history, politics, judicial system, education, health and, evidently, the 1994 genocide, as well as the efforts being made to reconstruct the fabric of the country after this tragic event. These classroom activities prepare them for a five-week trip to Rwanda, where they are first acquainted with the reality of the life in the capital Kigali, after which small groups are placed in different community organizations in and around the capital.
The impact of Henri’s initiative is clearly shown in the following quotes taken from the letters of support his application received for the Western Humanitarian Award.
Students who took the course in the past wrote: “Professor Boyi embodies Ghandi’s famous quote, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ …” and “His teachings changed the way I see the world, and inspired me to always seek out the best in everything and everyone.”
One student made a point of saying Henri is just not just a humanitarian in the work he does, but “he is a special example of an individual who is sincerely and truly a humanitarian, in the complete sense of the word,” because he genuinely embodied the values and principles inherent to a deeper understanding of humanitarianism. He achieves this by making students sensitive to the community where they work.
The director of one of the organizations receiving students last year wrote he was “extremely impressed by Henri’s passion to help his students learn the values of intercultural understanding and community service in order to make a difference in the lives of Rwandan children.” Another added, “We were touched to see how much these young Canadians were eager to learn about the Rwandan people, our culture and history.” He then went on to say “in the end, the four weeks had been very short … Yet, the building of a strong bridge between our desires for a better world and also between our cultures was started with a very strong foundation.”
The building of these foundations will continue, as a third group of Western students is now preparing their trip in May. Henri’s Western Humanitarian Award will be invaluable in taking his project a step further.
Department of French Studies professor
Bob Gough, 2012 Western Humanitarian Award Winner
I first met Bob in 2010 in the Comparative and International Education masters program at the Faculty of Education. He was then, as he has always been, enthusiastic to talk about Western Heads East (WHE) and his long and abiding commitment to education and social justice.
Bob has been the project director of WHE since 2004, but his background in commitment to working with local communities in equitable, sustainable and empowering ways goes back many years.
He has much experience in promoting healthy, non-violent family relationships through research, teaching and workshops. During the early 1990s, he served as the project director, family violence initiatives for Correctional Services Canada. The list of initiatives he has been involved in related to family violence is long and impressive.
In 1994, he became assistant director of Western’s Residence Education and Programs. In that role, he continued demonstrating his leadership skills in delivering educational and transition programming for first-year students living in residence.
In 2003, former U.N. ambassador Stephen Lewis came to speak at Western about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. It was no surprise Bob responded to Lewis’ call to do something about this humanitarian crisis and initiated the WHE program.
As Oana Branzei, Richard Ivey School of Business professor, wrote in her nomination letter for Bob:
“… Bob is a heart-and-soul difference-maker, who has single-handedly brought multiple communities together for a common project promoting nutrition and health for the most vulnerable populations (people living with HIV-AIDS in small rural communities in East Africa, especially mothers and young children whose health benefited directly from this project). …”
Bob has worked in collaboration with the Western community as well as women’s groups, African institutions and NGOs to spearhead a set of community-based enterprises – the ‘yogurt kitchens’ – based on the production of probiotic yoghurt that builds immune response and nutrition for people living with HIV/AIDS. The program began with one community kitchen in Mwanza, Tanzania; today, there are 12 programs operating in Tanzania, two in Kenya and new programs starting in Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi.
In addition to being a tireless spokesperson on behalf of WHE, Bob was responsible for designing its organizational structure, and overseeing the student internship program, which has brought dozens of Western students to eastern Africa.
Bob is humble and the first to admit WHE would not have come to life without the support of many others both here at Western and in eastern Africa. WHE has contributed to the improvement of the local economy and overall community well-being. Of course there are the health benefits of the yogurt for those who consume it. In addition, WHE provides tremendous benefits for the ‘yogurt mamas’ who produce the yogurt. Many, who previously were in violent relationships, are now economically empowered through their work in the kitchens, and now able to say no to abuse.
In this way, Bob’s involvement in WHE brings him full circle in his commitment to working to support healthy and equitable relations.
Bob’s vision and leadership as the project director of WHE has been fundamental in building, promoting and sustaining the humanitarian work in Africa. As Gregor Reid, Western Microbiology and Immunology professor and developer of the probiotic strain used in the WHE yoghurt, wrote in his letter of recommendation:
“… Bob Gough is one of the rare individuals you meet in life who shows unmovable enthusiasm, a positive attitude to life no matter the challenges, and in the case of Western Heads East, a leadership without which this amazing humanitarian initiative would never have happened and would not now be improving the lives of thousands of people. …”
Faculty of Education associate professor
Research committee chair, Western Heads East