Keene State finished its series of presentations relating to the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide with “Building Hope in Rwanda and Healthcare for All,” an event addressing the need for health care for the LGBT community in Rwanda.

On Monday, April 22, students, faculty and community members congregated in the Mabel Brown Room for a presentation regarding the Health Development Initiative [HDI] in Rwanda and what we in the Keene community can do.

The event included presentations from students enrolled in professor Therese Seibert’s Sociology of Genocide class.

The students covered Rwanda’s geography, early, colonial, and post-colonial history, the 1994 genocide, post-genocide Rwanda and HDI’s background.

In addition to the student presentations, there was Rwandan food and music, a silent auction of crafts and a speaker representing HDI.

The food included samosas and fried plantains, provided by a number of campus organizations and departments that supported the event.

These organizations include the Fair Trade Club, Habitat for Humanity, Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Club and the Campus Commission for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The departments that took part were Holocaust and Genocide studies, sociology, anthropology, and criminology.

Mark Di Ianni, KSC alumnus, attended a trip to Rwanda organized by Seibert last summer where the art for the auction came from. They worked closely with Never Again Rwanda, an organization founded to prevent genocide from happening in Rwanda again.

“Their commitment is to empower youth to build critical thinking skills in order to prevent conflict,” Di Ianni said.

“So we learn about all the social and psychological factors that contribute to conflict and learned about what you can do to step in and prevent those factors,” he continued.

Heather O’Brien / Equinox Staff

Heather O’Brien / Equinox Staff

Di Ianni attended the trip with four other KSC students, five students from Utah and nine Rwandan participants.

Among these participants was Kelly Christianson, KSC alumni.

Christianson recently won the Susan J. Herman award for Holocaust and Genocide awareness and has been accepted to work with the Peace Corps in Rwanda.

Shannon Cavanaugh, junior, will be going on the same trip this summer.

Cavanaugh majors in psychology and holocaust and genocide studies, and said that her genocide class sparked her interest in Rwanda.

“I never knew that students had the opportunity to go to Rwanda, and that’s somewhere where I had always wanted to go based on knowledge of the genocide,” Cavanaugh said. She said that they were going on a two-week peace-building trip with Never Again Rwanda to participate in post-genocide reconstruction.

“I’m hoping to get a more personal connection with the genocide because we’re going to potentially have presenters who have survived, and were alive during the genocide. I’ll get to see what it’s really like living in Rwanda and what it was like for these people,” Cavanaugh said.

Aflodis Kagaba, co-founder and executive director of HDI, spoke on behalf of the organization and educated those in attendance about their vision and mission.

HDI aims to build a healthcare facility that is a safe place for the LGBT community, where they will not be discriminated against.

While there are no laws against homosexuality in Rwanda, there are prejudices and stigmas associated with it that prevent many in the community from having access to healthcare. “We want to provide services to everyone, to all these marginalized groups,” Kagaba said.

“Maybe what we are calling homophobia at this level could also be ignorance. That’s why I think for me, this investment needs to be done in times of creating awareness, times of creating opportunities, times of creating services and then people progressively are going to change.”

According to Allison Picone, Sociology of Genocide student, Architecture students at KSC have already contributed to HDI’s mission.

“The architecture department at Keene State actually made designs for the facility and they went over there during Winter break,” Picone said.

Seibert also hosted an event earlier this semester featuring a Rwandan Genocide survivor.

“This was one genocide that I felt some shame over given the role of the United States during this genocide. A refusal to call it genocide, a refusal to support troops going there . . . Our record on this genocide, I felt ashamed about,” Seibert said.

Kagaba said that with the help of the Keene community, he hopes the facility will be built by 2017.

“We ask all other African countries to take a step forward and avoid disconnecting it’s own people,” Kagaba said. “It’s complicated, but slowly people are going to start to understand.”

According to Seibert, anyone can help with projects such as HDI by spreading the word, attending fundraisers, or making donations. Students can also partake in one of these upcoming trips to Rwanda.

Devon can be contacted at

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