Rwanda | Community Service

Immerse yourself in African village life as you join extraordinarily welcoming local people to volunteer on community-initiated projects on this summer community service program in Rwanda for high school students. Visit memorials of the 1994 genocide, and talk with survivors about Rwanda’s progressive approach to reconciliation. Explore the lush northern volcanoes region of Rwanda, and visit Lake Kivu before your return home.

July 4, 2014 - August 1, 2014
Students completing grades 9-12
Community Service
Typical Group:
16 Students, 2 Leaders
4 week(s)


In 1994, almost one million Rwandans were killed by their former friends and neighbors in a span of one hundred days. Yet this small, mountainous East African nation has managed in recent years to make extraordinary progress in reconciliation, economic development, political stability, and education. Rwanda leads the world in some aspects of social and political innovation, with the world’s first majority of female members of Parliament, and many young policy makers educated abroad who have returned to improve the lives of the Rwandan people. The volunteer project on this community service program is based outside of Nyamata, a town just south of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. It is a region that suffers from chronic drought and food shortages, and therefore has one of the nation’s highest levels of poverty. Our volunteer projects here center on much needed maintenance at the local public school, and work with severely disabled children at a small, locally run organization founded by close friends of Putney. This organization is in the midst of building a new home for their project, so we combine work with the residents with construction projects that help to build their future campus.

Students Volunteering in Rwanda, Africa

Friends of all ages join us at the project site.

In addition to our work at this organization and at the local public school, we volunteer at the Akilah Institute, a professional college for young women founded by an alumna of a Putney Student Travel community service program. The school, which is currently based in Kigali, will be moving to its new campus just outside of Nyamata this fall. We have been invited to help put the final touches on the campus, and also to work one-on-one with the students there, who are eager to practice their English in preparation for their final exams. You will also choose an independent research project.  Possible topics include: the many effects of the genocide on life today, the role of music and dance in Rwanda, tourism and the economy, the role of women in government, and Rwanda’s unique judicial model. Late afternoons and evenings are devoted to group activities with friends in town: dances, soccer games, hikes, and local speakers. Weekend excursions include visits to a traditional Twa tribal group, an excursion to a national wildlife park, and hikes into the surrounding hills. Upon successful completion of the volunteer program, you can expect to receive a certificate for 80-100 hours of community service.

Housing in Rwanda is simple. We stay two or three to a room in the guest quarters at the regional hospital. Rooms are plain but comfortable, with cement floors and simple bathrooms equipped with standard toilets. We have twin beds and use sleeping bags. Food is cooked over a charcoal fire by a local person (with your help) or occasionally at a restaurant in town.

“I got the greatest sense of accomplishment from working at the center for kids with disabilities. I was able to not only help in a place that really needed me, but also to learn that I really enjoy working with these kinds of children. That is something I will take back with me to my life at home. It was a truly amazing trip and I would never trade this experience for anything in the world.”

– Madeline Sachs, University of Chicago Lab School, Chicago, IL

On weekends, explore northern Rwanda’s lush green landscape, hike through coffee and tea plantations and up volcanoes in search of golden monkeys, visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a museum dedicated to Rwanda’s tragedy, explore the green hills of Kigali, and shop for crafts in its colorful markets.  Spend a night in hotels on beautiful Lake Kivu and in Ruhengeri, the gateway to Volcanoes National Park.


  • Volunteer one-on-one with students eager to practice their English.
  • Assist children in a rural home for the disabled.
  • Play an afternoon game of soccer with children from the village.
  • Hike with guides to see golden monkeys high in Volcanoes National Park.

What to Expect

Since we live in our host community as the local people do, accommodations are very simplewith separate space for boys and girls, and basic bathroom facilities. For most of each weekday, we are actively involved in community service work. This work, as well as afternoon and weekend activities, can be strenuous, and you can expect to spend most of each day outside. Everyone participates in all of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. Additionally, student must be prepared for exposure to the graphic memorials for people lost to the violence of genocide. You should come to the program with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences, and interested in exploring another culture and way of life.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer programs are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer. It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented. To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience.


Tuition: $5,790

Putney organizes escorted international flights. Please consult us for fares.


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2013 Community Service Rwanda Blog.

This program begins and ends at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Departure • Join your group to travel to Rwanda.  The group flight departs from JFK Airport, New York, where you meet one of your leaders and depart together for Kigali.

Nyamata • Travel 45 minutes south of Kigali to Nyamata, your home for most of the month. Stay in the guest quarters at the regional hospital, and volunteer on various important service projects in and around Nyamata.

Teens Hiking in Rwanda, Africa

Students celebrate a successful hike to the summit of Mount Bisoke.

Ruhengeri • At the end of the month, make an excursion to the northwest of Rwanda to spend a few days at Lake Kivu and in Ruhengeri. Venture into Volcanoes National Park to see golden monkeys living in the wild.  Join local guides on a climb through lush rainforest to see the monkeys up-close on the rims of extinct volcanoes. Visit coffee and tea plantations. Paddle in dugout canoes on the waters of Lake Kivu.

“Two things gave me a great sense of accomplishment. One was going to the construction site on the last day and being able to see what we had completed that summer. The other was reaching the top of Bisoke, the volcano we climbed.”

– Emily Rubenstein, Briarcliff High School, Briarcliff Manor, NY

Kigali • Finish up in the bustling capital of Kigali, where you check into a simple downtown hotel for a few days. Visit the Kigali Genocide memorial, and meet with NGOs working to advance health care and education in Rwanda.

Return •  Fly with your group and a leader from Rwanda to New York, and continue on to your final destination.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.


Background • In 1994, almost one million Rwandans were killed by their former friends and neighbors in a span of one hundred days. Yet this small, mountainous East African nation has managed in recent years to make extraordinary progress in reconciliation, economic development, political stability, and the provision of health care. There is still tremendous poverty, however, and service projects such as this are met with open arms.  The people of Rwanda are eager to put their tragic past behind them, to create unity, to heal, and to build their economy. Our program in Rwanda is based in the southern town of Nyamata, but will also visit the northern town of Musanze at the gates of Volcanoes National Park, and the capital of Kigali.

Population • Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, with over nine million people.  Over a million live in greater Kigali.  Nyamata has 7,000 inhabitants, and Musanze has 90,000.

Rwanda Community Service Village

Make friends with Rwandans as you work side by side.

Language • There are three official languages in Rwanda: Kinyarwanda, French, and English.  There are many local dialects as well.  A knowledge of French is useful on the program, but certainly not required.  In the last few years the country has shifted from French to English as the language of instruction in school.

Climate • Rwanda sits near the equator, and the climate is temperate and dry, without great fluctuation. Typical summer temperatures are in the 70s.  Nyamata is the driest area of the country, and gets a bit hotter.

“Everything we did stands out as a highlight of the trip: talking with locals while working on our projects, seeing animals on our safari day, hiking and our outdoor activities, having a bonfire, learning about the genocide and visiting two memorial sites. Through all the activities we did, our group fell more and more in love with Rwanda.”

– Sonaali Pandiri, Crossroads School, Pacific Palisades, CA

Cuisine • Food in Rwanda is varied, with curries, grilled meat, and plenty of tropical fruit and vegetables.  Staples include potatoes, plantains, beans, and cassava. Western influence is also seen in the availability of pastas and cereals.

Currency • Rwanda uses the Rwandan Franc (RWF).  We change money in banks in Kigali.  ATMs are also available on visits to Kigali.

Voltage • Students will have access to electricity in Rwanda.  Electric current is 230 volts, and the plugs are European-style with two round pins (Type C), so a plug adapter is necessary, and a voltage converter may be required to power some electronic devices.

Visa  U.S. citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter Rwanda.  Non U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements.

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The Community Service Rwanda program is directed by Karen Phillips. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Karen Phillips

Karen Phillips: St. Lawrence University, B.A., French. Karen caught the travel bug in high school while on a music tour through Europe, and later studied abroad in Switzerland, France, and Senegal. She has led Putney’s language program in France and community service program in Senegal, and coordinates programs in Europe and Africa. Karen spends her free time volunteering as a labor doula at a local hospital, hiking the ADK High Peaks, doing yoga, and running in and creating adventure races.

How To Apply


If you are new to Putney Student Travel, visit our Online Application.  
If you are a Putney Student Travel alumni family, 
use your existing account information to Log In.


You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone.  We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.

After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.


Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete.  In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:

  • Applicant Statement - Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
  • Two Teacher Reference Forms

These documents are available as part of our Online Application.  We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.