Bears Abroad in Rwanda and Costa Rica

February 28, 2023
HSS students in Costa Rica

The Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences offers a wide range of learning opportunities for students—even across the globe. Most recently, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) and the Health Sciences Studies (HSS) program in the Department of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation each offered transformative trips for students wishing to expand their knowledge and experience beyond the bounds of Baylor University’s campus. CSD students worked to improve child development in Rwanda, and HSS students worked to better health education in Costa Rica. These trips left students in both majors with a new perspective of their field as well as the world around them. 

During the Wintermester, CSD students traveled to Rwanda for two weeks to partner with Africa New Life Ministries, a nonprofit organization that “exists to transform lives and communities in Rwanda through proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and acts of compassion..” These students had the opportunity to educate the people of Rwanda on child development and dive into Rwandan culture and lifestyle. 

Jenna York, current CSD student, shared about her study abroad experience and the significance, purpose, and hope of their trip. She highlighted the impact their research will have on the area. 

“We tested children at a local daycare in five domains: communication, physical behavior, social-emotional behavior, adaptive behavior, and cognition,” York said. “At the end of this year, Baylor professors are returning to Rwanda to hopefully see an increase in all five domains because of our efforts in January.”

The students spent time sharing about their observations in each of the five domains with local mothers in order to spur development in Rwanda. Additionally, the day care workers learned how to implement literacy activities and games for physical development and were taught the importance of social-emotional health and other beneficial practices. The mothers and caretakers also had opportunities to ask questions of Baylor students and professors about parenting and child development.

When students were not working with Africa New Life, they were learning about the country and, specifically, Rwanda’s culture of forgiveness. CSD student Ashley Boyce emphasized that the people of Rwanda inspired her to be kinder and more intentional in her relationships back home.

“The moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life was at the reconciliation village,” Boyce recalled. “This village had Hutus and Tutsis living together, people who once despised one another. They were laughing at how Americans won’t be friends with people who don’t think the same as them. It was an experience I will treasure forever.”

“Never have I experienced Jesus so closely,” York concluded, after reflecting on her time in Rwanda. “Seeing how the people of Rwanda were able to forgive one another after a horrific past encompasses everything that the Gospel is.”

Not only were CSD students able to experience a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but Health Science Studies students also had their own transformative trip over the winter break. These students spent two weeks studying abroad in Costa Rica, assisting local Costa Ricans with personal health concerns and injuries.

Jennifer Graves, a senior HSS student on the pre-Physician’s Assistant track, reflected on what her time looked like in Costa Rica over break.

“The goal of our trip was to educate the people of Costa Rica to understand health in general, so they can better diagnose themselves in the future and get the help they really need,” Graves said. “There are medical resources for the people in Costa Rica, but a lot of them don’t realize it.” 

HSS students traveled to villages and worked at temporary, makeshift clinics. They went door to door scheduling appointments for people with issues ranging from back pain to illnesses. Students met with as many patients as possible and created health care plans for Costa Ricans to receive proper treatment of their current and future health problems. Graves recalled that many patients needed education on how to receive healthcare in their country, rather than medication or treatment itself.

“We had to challenge the people who were ill to be diligent in taking care of themselves because we weren’t always going to be there,” Graves said.

Along with the practical experience of the clinic, the community created on the trip continues to last much longer than the two weeks in Costa Rica. Graves emphasized the closeness she felt to her peers after their time together. Getting to know passionate people in her field and to work so closely with them added to the enjoyment of her trip and pushed her to work harder as an HSS student.