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Buffalo State Celebrates Rwanda at SUNY Global

Buffalo State Celebrates Rwanda at SUNY Global

Posted: July 19, 2016

Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner joined Mathilde Mukantabana, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States of America, and a number of dignitaries from SUNY at “Celebrate Rwanda” on June 29 at the SUNY Global Center in New York City.

The event celebrated not just the country of Rwanda but also the relationship between Rwanda and the State University of New York. The connection began when Drew Kahn, theater professor at Buffalo State, produced the play The Diary of Anne Frank featuring two actresses playing the role of Anne. One was the Jewish girl in hiding from the Nazis; the other was a Tutsi girl hiding from the Hutu extremists during the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994.

The connection between SUNY and Rwanda became stronger when Kahn developed the Anne Frank Project. The project’s mission is to use storytelling as a vehicle for community building, conflict resolution, and identity exploration. The annual social justice conference is one of many activities under the project’s umbrella.

Another activity began in 2009 when a group of Buffalo State students traveled to Rwanda. “We wanted our students to learn and to develop their own work from their experiences,” said Kahn. “We also wanted to share the power of telling stories through theater with students in Rwanda.”

Since then, Buffalo State faculty and students have worked with Rwandan educators and students to introduce drama-based education to Rwanda. The program has been incorporated into Rwanda’s educational system.

This year, the Jewish Foundation for Educating Women is sponsoring two students in internships that will enable them to expand connections across SUNY to further the Anne Frank Project and its relationship with Rwanda. The students are Stella Oduro, a senior at Geneseo who is majoring in international relations with a concentration in war and peace; and Kirana Santosa, a senior at Stony Brook University with dual majors in political science and sociology.

For both students, their first project as JFEW interns was planning the Celebrate Rwanda event. “It was valuable to learn how to plan an event, and how to work together,” said Oduro. “And we learned a lot about Rwanda.”

Santosa said, “I gained a lot of experience communicating professionally in e-mails and phone conferences as well as in person with all the people involved in the conference.” Both young women were impressed at how much can be accomplished working with a supportive, encouraging team. Now they are researching ways to involve faculty and staff across SUNY’s 64 campuses in programs that further the Rwanda-SUNY education initiatives. “Rwanda has a lot to teach us,” said Oduro.

“I think of myself as a teacher, and I’m a hands-on person,” said Santosa. She is intrigued by the use of performing arts as an educational tool. Both hope to visit Rwanda as part of their work.

Remarks at Celebrate Rwanda were offered by Maryalice Mazzara, director of education programs, SUNY’s Office of Global Affairs, and Sally Crimmins Villela, SUNY assistant vice chancellor for global affairs as well as by Conway-Turner and Kahn. But perhaps the most powerful were those offered in song by actor André De Shields, who performed at the conclusion of the event and sang the lyrics, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”

Pictured at top: Students and JFEW-SUNY interns Karina Santosa and Stella Oduro present a gift to Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of Rwanda. 
Photo courtesy of Lia Chang.

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