By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Westborough – On Saturday, May 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., students and faculty from Westborough High School and members of the First United Methodist Church of Westborough invite the public to attend a fundraising event for Project Rwanda in the high school lobby. All money will go to support four initiatives in central African communities in Rwanda and the Congo.
Donations will go toward paving a road to the Kibogora Hospital opening up better access to healthcare for thousands of Rwandans, teaching children at an orphanage, rebuilding the Centre Marembo School for the disadvantaged in the village of Kigali, and funding teachers, supplies and meals in the South Kivu region of the Congo.
African Artist Innocent Nkurunziza will speak and sell native art. There will be a silent auction with carvings, masks, sculptures and other artwork from Rwanda. The Mark Neil family will tell their heart-wrenching story, show pictures from their trips to Africa, and explain how they became involved with this cause.
The event marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 in which over 800,000 people were murdered. The Neil family knows firsthand about the desperate need of people in this area. Neil is the son of missionary parents and grew up in that part of Africa. He and his family have taken four trips back over the last two years according to Greg Gallagher, a social studies teacher at Westborough High School.
Gallagher teaches the “Facing History and Ourselves” course to 180 juniors and seniors. The course is designed to make connections between history and their own lives by focusing on the events that led to the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and the Jim Crow era in this country.? From an understanding of these atrocities, students are taught to combat prejudice, indifference and misinformation so that these young leaders will take greater responsibility in shaping future history.
Kevin Neil was a student in Gallagher's class when he first went to Africa. He shared stories of his amazing trip and the crushing needs of the people. The family worked with the Methodist Church and its pastor, Reverend John W. Taylor, to raise money and go back a second time with the whole family and church members.
“They schlepped 16,000 pounds of stuff, including soccer balls and crutches, all the way to Rwanda, boxing everything, loading it, unloading it, and delivering it to the people Mark grew up with,” Gallagher explained. “On the first trip Mark met with Rwandan kids he knew who are now adults and assessed the needs of the village. Then he asked for help from the church here.”
Ryan Neil is a junior this year and came back with videos of the latest trip. The story and the pictures deeply touched the social studies teacher.
“That's amazing. I was hooked. We should do more. How can we help?” Gallagher asked.
Gallagher met with the Neil family and the idea was born for Project Rwanda.
With that the students became involved. They put up posters, spoke at the Westborough Rotary meeting, and told the story at the Mill Pond Elementary School during Africa week. A Facebook page “Westborough Gives Hope” has also been created. The students also helped write and produce a brochure for the fundraiser. Besides promoting ticket sales for the May 3 event, the kids are selling colorful party pants that are made in Rwanda for $25 a pair. Tickets are $20 each. The group is hoping to raise $5,000 for the cause.
“I see kids trade the empty happiness of electronics for the real satisfaction of making a difference in so many lives in another part of the world,” Gallagher said.