Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
Field: Communications and Journalism
Host: National University of Rwanda, Rwanda
Dates: June 26 – July 25, 2006
A Month in Rwanda
Whenever people ask me if the four weeks I spent as a Fulbright Specialist at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) went by quickly, they seem surprised when I say, “Not at all!” Some of it was hard; not everything went smoothly; and I did miss my family in the United States—but it was a great experience.
I went to Rwanda to teach a video production class to third year students at NUR that would form the core course in a video production program the university wanted to initiate. What surprised me was that they wanted an entire semester’s course taught in a single month. I was intrigued by the challenge, and drew up a class schedule that called for a four-hour class to meet five days a week for a full month. I was nervous about teaching for so many hours, and if anything went wrong, there was no margin for error. The other part of the equation was this: Could Rwandan students, with no previous video or television experience, handle the compressed workload? They would need to come to grips with a lot of technical information—camera, lighting, sound, computer editing—as well as artistic issues such as visual conceptualization, storytelling, scriptwriting and directing.
Four weeks after the class began, I was sitting in the projection booth in the Grande Auditorium at NUR, waiting to screen eight student videos—a mixture of short documentary profiles and narrative films. It was a Saturday night and the auditorium was filled with hundreds of students eagerly waiting for the show to begin. Just three days earlier, I had seriously questioned if this night would come at all. None of the projects were done; most were in various stages of editing, and one was still being shot. But the ideas were all there. One film was about the problem of “Sugar Daddies” (older men with money who prey on co-eds), another dealt with consequences of marital infidelity, and a comedy—about a thief who breaks into a student’s dorm room—had everyone in class laughing even before it was edited.
It was great to see that the students were up to the challenge. They came to every class, shot their projects on the weekends, and spent countless hours editing. The “Student Film Festival,” as we called it, was a big hit. Sure, the films had some problems, but few that the audience could detect, and the excitement and sense of accomplishment was palpable.
Did the month go by quickly? Not really. Prepping and then giving a four-hour class, Monday-Friday, for four weeks was exhausting. But the thrill of seeing the students put forth such effort, and to see their work celebrated by their peers, made my stay in Rwanda worth it.