For Buffalo State freshman Lazarus Lynch, traveling to Rwanda earlier this month with members of the Anne Frank Project (AFP) was an incredibly moving experience. Not only did he learn about the genocide that decimated the African country in the mid-1990s, he also found he was connected to the young people who live there now in surprising ways.
“You realize how much we are the same and how we want the same things,” said Lynch, a dietetics and nutrition major with a minor in theater. Lynch and eight other students made the two-week trip led by theater professor and AFP director Drew Kahn.
This marks the third trip to Rwanda that Kahn has organized as a way to expand upon the message of the Anne Frank Project which focuses on genocide, racism, and other atrocities through its annual public conference held on the Buffalo State campus every September.
During their two weeks in Rwanda, students visited genocide memorials, refugee camps, schools and orphanages in the capital city of Kigali and neighboring villages. While there, they also performed a 20-minute theater piece that included excerpts of The Diary of Anne Frank for youth at the various sites. Lynch said he felt like the group helped reveal another side of America.
“Some of them think Americans aren’t interested in their way of life and don’t understand their struggles,” Lynch said. “Through the Anne Frank Project, we were able to open doors to have a conversation.”
Last fall, Kahn and a committee that included representatives from the International and Exchange Programs Office chose the nine students who would take the trip out of 50 who applied.
“I wanted to make sure they were not just mentally ready, but emotionally ready as well,” Kahn said. “You have to be tough for this trip and have some connection to storytelling.”
Sophomore Deonna Dolac says of her experience, “I feel like I came back a better person. I was inspired by the stories of the people I met there. I feel theater is a way to continue those stories.”
And the stories will continue. In Kahn’s spring theater ensemble class, these students will create a play based on what they learned in Rwanda. The play will be performed as part of the 2013 Anne Frank Project and also will become a touring show for students in Buffalo area schools.
“The students came back with an intense need to give,” Kahn said. “We want to share their message.”