Rwanda trip provides memories, glimpse into international public health

· 3 min read

Rwanda trip provides memories, glimpse into international public health

Participants in the Rwanda study abroad trip pose together for a group photo in front of a white building.

“This is something that they’ll carry with them forever,” said Marianna Burks, professor of practice in the School of Biological Sciences.

For two weeks in the spring pre-session, more than a dozen University of Nebraska–Lincoln undergraduates explored Rwanda with guidance from Burks and Kadina Koonce, assistant director for the Business Career Center in the College of Business. The trip focused on different facets of public health through visits with specialized groups and organizations, learning how to cultivate the land with the rural Azizi community, and exploring resources and education provided by the country’s health development initiatives.

Zoey Armstead, a senior biochemistry major and outgoing president of the Minority Pre-Health Association, jumped at the opportunity to travel abroad as it fit perfectly with her passion for minority medicine.

“I knew it would help me gain more knowledge in a global sense,” Armstead said.

Four students pose in a jeep during the Rwanda trip.

Students explored several areas of public health, including nutrition, women’s health, family planning, disease prevention and regulation, mental health, and preventative care.

For Armstead, a visit to the Health Development Initiative, an independent non-governmental organization based in Kigali, was impactful. She was inspired by the group’s mission to educate rural youth about their health rights.

The group observed and assisted with the initiative’s work during a visit to a rural Rwandan village. The experience included one-on-one interactions with youth and community members, engaging in games and activities that focused on informing participants about their rights.

“In just a couple of hours, we got to witness their impactful work,” Armstead said. “It was very motivating to see their mission to improving quality and accessibility of healthcare to all Rwandans in action.”

For Armstead and Caden Connealy, a junior biochemistry major, the trip marked a first time abroad.

“This opportunity initially seemed like it would be too far outside my comfort zone,” Connealy said. “Not only have I never been outside the United States, but I have never traveled without at least one of my close friends or family members. Then I realized there had to be a first, otherwise there would be no opportunity for me to accumulate any human experiences.”

A pre-med student, Connealy was excited for the chance to learn about medical practices in another country. Now, he hopes to share his time in Rwanda with other Huskers.

“I’m involved in a few pre-medicine clubs at UNL, including NU-Meds and pre-health clubs,” Connealy said. “I would love to be able to share some of my experiences in Rwanda with the members of these clubs. I think it would be a great way for me to recap my trip and potentially provide other students with some positive learning experiences.”

Meetings with community members and some fun excursions (including a safari in Akagera National Park) now in the rearview, Burks hopes the students came away with knowledge and growth. The trip, she says, hopefully showed them how they can engage with a community that may be outside of their norm and develop as professionals after graduation.

Armstead said the trip offered a variety of lessons and inspiration as she follows her dream to serve as a doctor.

“As I reflect on the trip, when I am working as a doctor in the future, it is my dream to implement even a fraction of the contagious joy, love and laughter the community of Rwanda showed me,” Armstead said.

A student is surrounded by Rwandan youth during the study abroad trip.

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