Experiencing life on another continent has had a profound effect on Sean Motl’s life here at home.
A native of Wall, just south of San Angelo, Motl spent three weeks last summer in and around Kigali, Rwanda, working an internship with the Global Youth Connect (GYC) human rights delegation. His trip to the genocide-ravaged African nation was funded though the Alvin and Patricia New Honors Program Enhancement Fund.
The junior pre-med and psychology student joined 30 other students from North America and Rwanda to explore issues related to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The first thing he noticed was all the progress that has already been made in recovery.
“The media paints Rwanda as being a place of devastation and warlords and all that, but what I saw were people who are incredibly strong and hard working,” Motl said. “It was generally peaceful, and they had this great attitude and had made great progress toward peace and reconciliation.”
“I really enjoy the idea of partnership and cultural exchange. That was the biggest thing about this program…”
The GYC program was designed to instill the spirit of global cooperation, and consisted of site visits, memorial visits and a volunteer project. Motl’s group visited a refugee camp, several ministries and memorial sites marking the 1994 genocide of between 500,000 and 1 million ethnic Tutsi tribesmen and peace-advocating minority Hutus. The group also worked to promote education for Rwandan youth through theater and games.
“I really enjoy the idea of partnership and cultural exchange,” Motl said. “That was the biggest thing about this program, and I am looking forward to developing these kinds of relationships with people wherever I am, teaching them something and learning a different way of doing what I am doing.”
“On the site visits,” he added, “we went to a refugee camp, to the Ministry of Justice and to the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. We were able to sit down and talk to them about some of the different issues and what those organizations are planning on for the future. The Rwandan youths were with us every step of the way. It was truly a partnership, and we learned about each other’s perspectives.”
The memorial site visits were particularly striking and emotionally exhausting, especially for the Rwandans in Motl’s group, who recalled their own experiences or connections to the genocide.
“That made the memorial sites so much more personal, knowing that we were experiencing the sites with survivors,” Motl said. “Sometimes, they would open up with their stories, and those were always really tough, but they were also incredibly strong. Just their strength and perseverance and how much they are striving for reconciliation and peace was inspiring.”
Motl’s group was also paired up with a non-governmental organization called the Health Development Initiative for a volunteer project. They helped the group write articles on sexual rights and sexuality for a website to be used as a resource for Rwandan youth to ask questions and find answers.
Since his return to ASU, Motl has delved deeply into his studies with a new focus on the future, which has been forever transformed by his trip to Rwanda.
“I hope to be living in a different country and having a partnership with its people,” he said, “teaching them about health and human rights, and at the same time learning from them and learning about their culture.”
While Motl is leaning toward becoming a general medical practitioner so he can treat a wide range of patients, he is also looking at pediatrics or obstetrics-gynecology after noticing on the Doctors Without Borders website that there is a great need for doctors in those areas. Whatever path he chooses, he plans to work alongside others and continue to expand his own horizons.