Rwanda | Global Awareness in Action

Public Health

Join this summer program for high school students for an in-depth examination of Public Health in Rwanda—a small, lush, mountainous Eastern African nation with a horrific recent history, but a remarkably progressive and positive approach to confronting its challenges. Visit and work in settings ranging from a small, locally run center for disabled children to outreach clinics providing health services and education to families affected by HIV and AIDS. Return with a nuanced understanding of the human, social, economic, cultural and technical issues affecting public health provision in a developing nation. Travel to Yale University during the last three days of the program to share your experiences with all Global Action groups.

June 28, 2014 - July 27, 2014
Students completing grades 9-12
Global Awareness in Action
Typical Group:
16-18 Students, 2 Leaders
4.5 week(s)


The public health challenges Rwanda confronts are entwined with the horrible spasm of violence that occurred during the genocide of 1994. In a three month span, close to one million people were systematically murdered. The extent to which Rwanda has moved on toward reconciliation and positive social action is extraordinary, but the effects of the genocide remain pervasive.  In this context, we examine the effects of endemic illness and its treatment, prevention efforts, and other public health issues common in developing countries, but also confront related concerns directly resulting from the genocide – including the huge number of widows, orphans, and households headed by children.

Upon your arrival in Kigali, check into a simple downtown hotel and spend two days in meetings designed to orient you to the history of Rwanda, the genocide, reconciliation, and health care provision. Meet with representatives of NGOs, Rwandans working on reconciliation, students, orphaned survivors of genocide, and others who share their perspectives and experiences with you. Take part in a powerful visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a museum dedicated to Rwanda’s tragedy.  In addition to our planned visits, we have time to explore the green hills of this bustling city, and shop for crafts in its colorful markets.

Summer Teen Volunteer in Rwanda Africa

Work at a neighborhood home for children with developmental disabilities.

Next, spend seven days in Nyamata, a town 45 minutes south of Kigali in an area of Rwanda that suffers from chronic drought and food shortages. Putney has friendships with a number of private groups working to provide health care in Nyamata, and the district government has enthusiastically endorsed our visit. Each day, divide into small groups to work with a variety of host organizations, ranging from a program associated with the Millenium Villages Project working on eradication of tropical diseases, to a small scale home started by local residents to house and care for severely handicapped young people.

In Nyamata, stay two or three to a room in 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 outside over a charcoal fire by a local person (with your help), or occasionally at a restaurant in town.

Then travel to the Rehengeri region in the northwest of Rwanda where we are based in the larger town of Musanze for ten days.  While here, we visit a number of organizations working on health care delivery in town, and also have the unique opportunity to help for a few days in a very rural dispensaire (clinic) in an idyllic, but isolated and poor village in the green hills. In Musanze, we stay in a house rented by Putney, four or five people to a room. There are beds and mattresses, and you again use sleeping bags. The house has two complete bathrooms with standard toilets and simple hot showers.  In teams, students shop for and prepare meals in the house’s kitchen.

“My expectation was that Putney would help me gain a new lens of perspective and give me the tools and experience I need to take action and help people in Rwanda. These goals were met, and the experience went beyond anything I could have expected.” 

- Erez Zborowski, York Preparatory School, New York, NY

Throughout your time in Rwanda, service work is complemented by discussion of issues of health care policy, organization, and funding as they relate to organizations ranging from grass roots co-operatives to large NGOs and central government programs.  You have plenty of material for drawing your own conclusions about what works best.  Upon successful completion of the program, you can expect to receive a certificate for 20 – 40 hours of community service work.

Before returning to Yale University, we trek into the mountains of Volcanoes National Park.  Golden monkeys live in the wild here, as do one of the world’s few remaining populations of mountain gorillas (the subject of Dianne Fossey’s research as chronicled in the movie Gorillas in the Mist).  Local guides lead us on a climb through lush rainforest to the rims of ancient volcanoes so that we can see the monkeys up-close in their natural habitat.  There is also time to visit coffee and tea plantations and paddle in dugout canoes on the waters of Lake Kivu.

During these final days, you and your group synthesize your experiences into a presentation for the other Global Action teams at Yale University.  Yale is an opportunity to get to know other Global Action students who have traveled to far-flung destinations throughout the world, and to present your plan for ongoing involvement with the issues you encountered in Rwanda. Come away from your summer with unforgettable friendships, insight into the complex dynamics associated with moving past a history of genocide, increased recognition of the challenges facing developing nations, and an understanding of the realistic possibilities for effective health programs.


  • Work with children in a rural home for the disabled.
  • Shadow a health worker in a regional hospital.
  • Meet with survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • Visit a Partners in Health clinic (founded by Dr. Paul Farmer of Mountains Beyond Mountains).
  • Prepare a multimedia account of your experience, and present it at Yale University.

What to Expect

Students in this extraordinary program must be prepared for exposure to the graphic memorials for people lost to the violence of the genocide, and to the personal stories of genocide survival and reconciliation that form part of the program. You should come to the program with an open-mind, eager for new experiences, and dedicated to tackling the serious issues that face Rwanda.  Living conditions are very simple.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail.  The descriptions of our high school summer programs abroad 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: $6,090

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


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2013 Global Awareness in Action Rwanda Blog.

This program begins at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and ends at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

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 as a group to Kigali.

Kigali • Upon arrival in Kigali, check into a simple downtown hotel for two days spent getting an active orientation to the history of Rwanda, the genocide, reconciliation, and the state of health care provision today.

“I gained a more sure desire to study public health in college, and this experience reaffirmed my aims of working with an NGO afterwards. Completing the presentation successfully made me feel the most accomplished – we worked so hard on it, and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from friends and family really validated all of the effort and love we put into the trip.”

-Olivia Matthews, The Lawrenceville School, Villanova, PA

Nyamata• Travel to Nyamata, a town 45 minutes south of Kigali, and our home for the next seven days. Stay in guest quarters at the regional hospital, and take part in internships with various organizations focused on health care.

Ruhengeri • Then it’s on to the northwest of Rwanda for 10 days in the Ruhengeri region, the staging point for trips to Volcanoes National Park. Collaborate with a number of organizations working on health care delivery in the town, and also in a very rural dispensaire (clinic) in an idyllic, but isolated and poor village in the hills.

Summer High School Volunteer in Rwanda Africa

Getting to know the culture and people you are working with is instrumental to understanding the benefits and drawbacks of aid and development.

Volcanoes National Park • 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.

Yale University • Fly from Kigali to New York and connect by private coach to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.  After a day of final preparation, present your conclusions to the assembled Global Action groups, your friends and relatives, and other invited guests.  Share your plans for continuing involvement with the people, organizations, and vital issues you encountered during this life-changing summer. 

Head for Home •  Depart for home by train, bus, or a flight from nearby Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT.

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 provision of health care. Rwanda’s effort to respond to the effect of genocide, to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, and to address other health care challenges is the central focus of this program. In 2005, the Boston-based organization Partners in Health, founded by Dr. Paul Farmer (subject of the best-seller Mountains Beyond Mountains), was invited by the government of Rwanda to bring its successful model for AIDS treatment to rural Rwanda. With funding from the Clinton Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Initiative and the efforts of grass-roots groups, health care delivery in some of Rwanda’s poorest rural areas has improved dramatically.  The people of Rwanda are eager to put their tragic past behind them, to create unity, to heal, and to be healthy. Our program in Rwanda has three destinations: the capital of Kigali, the southern town of Nyamata, and the northern town of Musanze at the gates of Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano National Park Sunset Rwanda Africa

The sun sets on nearby Volcanoes National Park, home of the famous mountain gorilla.

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 Ruhengeri has 90,000.

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, while Musanze is cooler with some moisture drawn in by nearby volcanoes.

“I brought my guitar to Rwanda with me, and there was nothing more fulfilling than playing for the children at AveH who were mentally and/or physically disabled. Seeing those kids so happy and so inspired was the first time that my guitar playing actually made a difference. I hope to play some of the songs chosen by and written about these extraordinary children at benefits to raise awareness for the organizations that care for them.”

- Christopher Zaro, Flintridge Preparatory School, San Marino, CA

Cuisine • Food in Rwanda is varied, with curries, grilled meat, and plenty of tropical fruit and vegetables.  Staples include potatoes, cassava, plantains, and beans. 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.  ATM machines are also available in 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 is 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 Global Awareness in Action 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.