By Kathy Barnard, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Five WSU students heading to Rwanda
PULLMAN, Wash. – While the semester ends for most Washington State University students in mid-May, five hand-picked students from the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences will be in the throes of finishing their preparations for a practicum in a village in central Rwanda.
The trip, led by Kim Kidwell, professor and associate dean of academic programs in CAHNRS, and Colleen Taugher, project associate in the WSU International Agricultural Development Office, is the first of its kind for the college and a pilot for what officials hope will become an annual offering.
For two weeks at the beginning of June, the group will work in the village of Gashora with community members as well as three students from the Rwandan Higher Institute of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry.
"One of my heart’s desires has been to support students in going to developing countries, seeing how other people live and being inspired to do things that might make a difference not only there but here as well,” Kidwell said.
"In CAHNRS, we want our students to get the foundational science down, but we also want them to be able to translate it into something that matters and apply it in a real life situation,” she said. "Internationally, the only way to do that is to take them there.”
"Finding ways to really see how things work isn’t very easy unless you go there,” she continued. "This kind of experience allows them to immerse themselves in a community that’s dealing with issues that are highly related to their career goal disciplines.”
"It’s transformative,” she said. "When you spend time in another country, you see your own in a new way. These students are going to be working in a global community, so having the skill base to cope with that is going to be important.”
The students, who applied for the opportunity, were personally interviewed and selected by Kidwell and Taugher, and most of their trip expenses will be covered.
They have been in a preparatory class since February. It has involved researching the area in which they will be working as well as developing practical, sustainable solutions for the issues Kidwell and Taugher worked with community members to identify on a trip in January.
Specifically, the WSU group will tackle four projects. They will work with the cooperative to:
• Build composting toilets to address health and sanitation in the village
• Develop and implement a system for drying fruits and vegetables grown in the area to minimize food loss
• Help to build demonstration mushroom houses. Mushrooms are a popular vegetable in the region and provide a highly nutritional crop in a small amount of space.
• Implement a general composting system to help improve soil quality in surrounding gardens and farms. Currently, farmers use no soil inputs.
"I want to pursue a career in international development, so this is tailor-made for me,” said Rowan Ringer, a field crop management major from Selah, Wash.
"I have always wanted to do something important, and the more I learn about this, the more important it feels. The more I get into agriculture, the more everything clicks.”
WSU and the state of Washington already have strong connections in Gashora.
The Rwanda Girls Initiative, founded by Suzie McGill and Shal Foster from Seattle, has built Gashora Girls Academy there, and Ralph Coolman, also a project associate in WSU IAD, has helped design a 20-acre organic farm at the school.
Lama Mugabo, part of a group who fled Rwanda during initial conflicts there, lived in Vancouver, B.C., for approximately 30 years before returning to Rwanda to support revitalization efforts. He now runs the Covaga Innovation Center – a cooperative of 63 women and one man working to better their community through demonstration efforts and outreach.
WSU interns will work with Rwandan interns on projects at the Innovation Center and at the girls’ school while in the country.
Kim Kidwell, WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, 509-335-4562, email@example.com
Colleen Taugher, International Agricultural Development, 509-335-2861, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathy Barnard, Marketing, News and Educational Communications, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, 509-335-2806, email@example.com