Students serve across Nashville during Community Action Day
“Your voice matters. Your two feet matter. Your efforts matter,” a Rwandan genocide survivor told High School students during Community Action Day.
By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Communications Director
Before High School students departed Edgehill Avenue for 34 nonprofits and schools across Nashville, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide urged them to do what they can with the resources they have within reach.
“Find a passion for a cause,” human rights activist Claude Gatebuke urged students in the Auditorium, “and give a hand into that cause. Don’t worry about what the end results of what your efforts are going to be because what matters is the collective effort.”
Gatebuke began Community Action Day on Monday, November 4 by sharing the story of how his world view quickly evolved at age 14. He was a student and avid soccer player in Kigali, Rwanda when an ethnic conflict and civil war ballooned into genocide. After moving among the homes of neighbors and friends, he and his family rode a packed truck to the country’s border. There Gatebuke and his mother were forced to dig their graves before strangers stopped soldiers and negotiated their release. His family and 30 others crammed into a three-bedroom home before spending half a day crossing a crowded street into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They later emigrated to Uganda, where Gatebuke was captured by soldiers while playing soccer and escaped to Kenya with the help of a truck driver who did not even speak the same language as him. He eventually reunited by chance with his family at a train station, and they sought refuge in Nashville.
“I wanted the world to know this is happening and to do something to stop this,” he said, about founding the African Great Lakes Action Network, a nonprofit raising awareness about issues of war, genocide, conflict, and human rights violations. “Through telling our stories and advocating lawmakers and through media ... we have seen rebel groups brought to their knees from committing atrocities.”
“Although it is a difficult story to hear, I am telling it to let you know how powerful you are. Think about those children and those people that came running and started yelling when I was about to be killed. Think about the driver who took the risk of leaving and coming back with negotiators for us. Think of the family we stayed with and the driver who took me took me to Kenya. Everyone played a different role, and they used the resources they had. You can do so much with the resources you have.”
For more than two decades, High Schoolers have paused their academic studies to spend a day engaging with the community and lending their hands. Student leaders Sam Horner ’20, Victoria Christianson-Galina ’20, Lauren French ’21, and Martin Parra ’21 planned this year’s Community Action Day.
Students took buses to neighborhoods across Nashville and walked to the nearby Edgehill community to create crafts with the elderly, organize food pantries and school supplies, read to elementary-school students, serenade senior citizens, work in gardens, and spruce up nonprofit buildings by cleaning and painting. They returned to campus in the afternoon to reflect on their volunteer experiences in small groups and enjoy an ice cream social.