News and Events
Gary Selby and His Study Abroad Students Learn While Serving in East Africa
Selby met a man in Kigali wearing a Waves shirt
The Malibu resident's lifestyle is possibly as far from the daily life of an African villager as it is possible to be. Each year, Seaver College students travel to the far-flung reaches of our globe on study abroad programs, and this summer Gary Selby, the director of the Center for Faith and Learning, took 16 Pepperdine students to Uganda and Rwanda to learn just how different a culture can be, and how they could serve there. And despite prior experience of traveling to East Africa, Selby discovered he too still has much to learn.
"Many Ugandans live completely in the moment, in an almost fatalistic way. It’s easy as an outsider to conclude, 'That’s just how Africans have always been,'" says Selby, who goes on to say that he has been learning about the impact of the Idi Amin years in Uganda from the writings of African theologian Emmanuel Katongole. "He argues that that really came about during Amin’s reign of terror - where without warning you could be arrested, tortured and killed, where basic staples like rice or soap became almost nonexistent, and where if you got to the end of the day and were still alive, you felt lucky."
The concept of living in the moment is one such example of the difference between life in East Africa and life in Malibu (and America in general) where students are always looking ahead and planning for their futures. Meeting with the people of Ugandan and Rwandan communities was a chance for students of the program to have their eyes opened to another way of life as they worked in the communities on health and education projects.
The group first spent three weeks at the "source of the River Nile" in the Ugandan town of Jinja, where they worked with various relief and development projects such as an AIDS clinic and counseling center, a support and job training organization for people with disabilities, a healthy water project, and a reforestation program, as well as providing support to a local orphanage.
"We wanted to take students to a place that would take them completely out of their Western cultural context, and to a setting in which they would encounter firsthand the issues and problems related to poverty, health care, education, and development," says Selby.
Selby cites the "cultural safari" as the trip's highlight –when students, individually, spend the night with a family in a remote village. "This is when they have the experience most tourists never have," he explains. "They join a family for a night and see how most Ugandan's really live. It's the real deal – mud huts, pit latrines, cooking over and open fire, and, in some cases, slaughtering the chicken that will become the evening meal."
Listen to an interview with Rwandan genocide survivor and bestselling-author Immaculée Ilibagiza as she remembers the bumpy path she's navigated in her pursuit of forgiveness.
Leaving Uganda, the group made the two-day drive to Rwanda, where they were faced with the aftermath of another African tragedy – the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The group spent two days visiting several genocide sites, including a rural church in Kigali, in which 5,000 people were slaughtered in the space of one afternoon. The church is a living witness to the horror, containing the bones, skulls, and clothing of the victims 15 years later. Despite confronting such a tragedy, Selby and his students were able to witness the positive developments taking place in Rwanda in the aftermath.
"We saw amazing signs of hope and resilience," he says. "So many Rwandans live with physical and psychological scars, yet the people we talked to who lived through the genocide – even those who had lost parents and siblings – are optimistic about the future of the country."
Leading the nation from its past to its hopeful future is the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who the group was honored to meet through a connection made by the father of one of the students. The president granted the group a two-hour meeting, along with Rwanda's Secretary of Education.
"The students encountered a person of deep integrity," remembers Selby. "The recent history of politics in Africa has been so marred with corruption, with people using their power to gain personal wealth. The students saw in President Kagame a political leader who is committed to governing fairly and honesty. It was especially moving to hear his passion for seeing the reforms that his administration has instituted continue into the future, so that they will pass on a better country to the next generation. "
The group returned educationally nourished by the summer experience. For one, they learned that there is sometimes a fine line between serving your fellow man and stifling his ability to help himself. "They gained a sense of how complicated development can be – how easy it is for us as Westerners to engage in development efforts that end up promoting dependency, which ultimately undermines the human dignity of the people we came to help," Selby explains.
But they also returned revitalized, with a renewed energy for Pepperdine's mission of service, purpose, and leaderships. Selby concludes, "Perhaps most importantly they gained a sense of critical self-awareness and a sense of global citizenship. Some are actually planning careers in nonprofit, mission, or development work. So they got a firsthand glimpse of real career possibilities."
The group stopped for a lakeside picture while on safari