"The United States of America has just sent a small number of its sons and daughters as Peace Corps volunteers to serve as teachers and advisors in Rwanda," writes Paul Kagame, president of that East African nation, in a blog worth noting (huffingtonpost.com/pres-paul-kagame).
Mentioning sons and daughters in a discussion of international aid and development reveals a focus on human connection from which we all could benefit. But he goes on.
What exactly constitutes a country's prosperity, Kagame asks. "Is it subsoil assets, location and sunshine, or is it based on human initiative, the productivity of our firms, the foresight of our entrepreneurs?"
As leader of a country still rebuilding from genocide 15 years ago, Kagame emphasizes the need to strengthen personal connections as a means of national growth.
The help foreign volunteers can bring Rwanda must be balanced with their learning about the country's languages, foods and culture, Kagame says. He invites the Americans to attend Rwandan weddings and funerals, to observe the system of community justice called Gacaca, and to take part in the monthly day of community service known as Umuganda. He encourages them to understand the African concept of family, wherein each generation treats the next as its own children.
In fact, Kagame highlights an essential Peace Corps goal enunciated at its inception back in 1961.
In addition to providing trained workers in a variety of fields and sharing American culture and values with people of the host nation, the agency had (and has) an equally important third goal: bringing the world and its cultures back home to Americans.
That can best be done, not in a travelogue of exotic moments manner, but in sharing and explaining the hows and whys of living in different ways. There is a lot to be learned there -- and appropriated for our own use.
While most development is spoken of in terms of capital and budgets, Kagame, whom Time magazine recently named one of the 100 most influential people in the world, sees his county's prosperity inextricably linked to "relationships between peoples who have a passion to learn from one another."
Rwanda will welcome Peace Corps workers, he says, not just for their technical skills but for what they can share and learn on a personal level.
"We will do this," Kagame concludes, "because we see that the only investment with the possibility of infinite returns is in our children, and because after a couple of years in Rwanda, working and learning with our people, these Peace Corps volunteers will be our sons and daughters, too."
Brian Williams covers Valparaiso for The Times. The opinions expressed are solely his. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org