August 31, 2010
Elizabeth Blevins, Director, Office of Communications
Phyllis Noah, Communications Coordinator
Office: (740) 351-3810; FAX: (740) 351-3179; Cell: (740)
940 Second Street – Portsmouth, Ohio 45662
Shannon Lawson, assistant professor in English and
Humanities at Shawnee State University, shows a photo of the
Wall of Dreams in Rwanda at a school where she and several
other Americans volunteered to help build this summer.
Shawnee State University Assistant Professor in English
Volunteers in Rwanda
Instead of going to the beach and vacationing, Shannon
Lawson, assistant professor in English and Humanities at
Shawnee State University, got up at 6 a.m. every morning for
four weeks this summer working in Rwanda as a volunteer for
a school project. She had visited Rwanda twice before on
tours, but this time she decided to work as a volunteer.
On April 6,
1994, in only 100 days, a campaign of mass murder was
unleashed upon the Tutsi people of Rwanda and more people
were slaughtered with machetes and clubs than had died from
atomic weapons in all of history. The people of Rwanda are
still recovering from the holocaust where an estimated
800,000 people died.
Mwambari who has visited SSU in the past has committed his
life to rebuilding communities shattered by the violence. In
2009, he launched a non-profit organization, “Sanejo:
Building Tomorrow’s Generation,” a grassroots organization
headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, that is rebuilding African
partnered with YGAP out of Australia, the “Y Generation
Against Poverty” organization, to sponsor rebuilding the
Ntenyo Primary School in the Muhanga District near Gitarama,
Rwanda, where Lawson volunteered. Nearly 600 students were
in the school with only nine teachers.
“He wanted to
build classrooms and he wanted to have native English
speakers to interact with the teachers and the students to
help with the English language,” Lawson said.
of Rwanda wants the official language to be English and all
the testing for the children is in English so they have to
learn the language.
One of the
customs in Rwanda is that when a woman marries and has a
child, she is known by the oldest child’s name so Lawson’s
name was Mama James, since her oldest son’s name is James.
“It’s like a
form of respect,” she said. “I was the only volunteer that
was married with kids. I wanted to make them feel
comfortable, so I had them call me Mama James.”
there thinking she would be mostly in the classroom working
with grades one through six teaching English, but she also
helped with the building site as well – moving bricks.
they needed me to do, I did. We would make like a chain of
people and pick up bricks and move them,” Lawson said.
“Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills, so you couldn’t
drive a truck to the building site.”
could only go so far and drop the bricks into a pile. Women
then carried the bricks and cement to the building site. One
woman had a job of holding boards in place so the builder
could saw the boards.
everything is done without electric and when they had to
have it, they would bring in a generator,” Lawson said.
She did a
workshop with the teachers one day on effective methods of
teaching and gave them hints on motivating the children and
On the Saturday before leaving, members of the community,
parents, teachers, children and volunteers had a celebration
beginning with “umuganda,” a community service to help clean
up the building site. The community members have a
“umuganda” once each month for different clean-up projects
in the community. Then the singing and celebration began.
volunteers painted one wall of the school house and called
it the Wall of Dreams. Students, teachers, workers and
volunteers put their handprints on the wall and wrote their
dreams in the handprints. Many of the children wrote what
they wanted to be: “I want to be a doctor.” “I want to be a
“My dream is
to go back next year,” Lawson said. “It’s the ultimate test
of a teacher to just use a chalkboard.”