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Playing in the mud: Ali Scholars in Rwanda make unexpected discovery

by UofL Today last modified Jul 15, 2014 09:55 AM

When the Muhammad Ali Scholars traveled to Rwanda in May, their goal was to learn about social justice issues, peace building and reconciliation as that country marked the genocide 20 years ago that tore it apart. But it was some unexpected time spent in the mud that stood out as the defining activity of the trip.

Playing in the mud: Ali Scholars in Rwanda make unexpected discovery

The mud hut that the Ali Scholars helped to repair.

The nine students—along with UofL professor Jennie Burnet, Assistant to the Vice Provost for Diversity and International Affairs Diana Whitlock and Stacy Bailey-Ndiaye, former director of the Muhammad Ali Institute—had  immersed themselves in research, visiting the genocide memorial, schools and health clinics, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits.

Then a 14-year-old girl named Gloria made a plea for their help. The tiny mud structure that was her home needed to be re-patched. It also had no door and no roof. Gloria’s family was in dire need.

The students collectively agreed to do something they not only had never done, but had never imagined doing: They used their feet and hands to create mud using water they had fetched themselves and hauled in buckets, carried the mud to the house and covered the structure with it. They installed a door and a roof. They were helped in their efforts by a local group called The Bridge Kids.

“It was just great, the amount of community you could see. They were all in such good spirits, united under one resolution,” said scholar Brina Jay.

“That was probably the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for someone,” added Dejon Day, another scholar.

At one point during their daylong project, a rainstorm moved in, and all the workers rushed inside the house.

“There were so many of us ushered inside this small house, huddled together in silence and waiting for the storm to abate so we could go back outside to finish working on the house,” said scholar Aaisha Hamid. “One of the other scholars decided to beat some sticks against a water jug and suddenly one of the kids started dancing. Before I knew it, everyone was getting up, clapping, laughing and dancing to the beat of the rhythm created. The minute the music stopped and we quit dancing, the storm came to a still and we all walked back outside together. That moment was monumental for me, and that memory will forever be ingrained in my head. … It has taught me, among other things, that no matter what kind of situation you are in, the way we perceive and deal with things is ultimately the determiner of our happiness.”

The Muhammad Ali Scholars program is a unique two-year experience combining training, research and service in the areas of violence prevention, social justice and peacemaking in an urban living context. A special emphasis is placed on understanding and addressing the social conditions that impact those issues. Aside from working in the Louisville community, part of the program includes an international trip to give scholars a global perspective on the matters emphasized and taught through the course of their time in the program. In the past, scholars have traveled to places such as Senegal and Belize. This was their first trip to Rwanda.

To learn more about the Ali Scholars program, visit: http://louisville.edu/aliinstitute/scholars.

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