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Alumnae visit Rwanda and present art gallery

| Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Saint Mary’s alumnae, Malea Schulte and Elizabeth Palmer, will share the transformational experiences they had during a research trip in Rwanda at the Moreau gallery opening, “Project Rwanda,” on December 8.

While in Rwanda this past year, 2013 graduate Palmer and 2014 graduate Schulte, as part of their project, approached different Rwandans and asked them how they wanted to be remembered, Palmer said.

“Face of Christ, change-maker and servant were some of the answers that flowed from their souls,” Palmer said. “We had them write their answer on a white board and took a picture for our exhibit.”

“Project Rwanda” will also feature the photography of Jonathan Bell, a passionate photographer from Asia, who will be joining Palmer and Schulte opening night, Palmer said. Prayer flags will be displayed and the artists’ reflections will be depicted.

The idea to create the art exhibit came after Schulte’s recent completion of her senior computation titled “Storybank,” which included individual paintings of different members of the Saint Mary’s community.

One of Schulte’s interviewees was a woman from Rwanda, whose story inspired Palmer and Schulte to travel to Rwanda in recognition of the 20-year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The duo hoped to build connections with people and promote peace through relationships, Palmer said.

“Malea interned at a faith based NGO called PICO (People Improving Communities Through Organizing), whose focus is on the different needs of communities, such as clinics and housing, through the world with a base in Rwanda,” Palmer said. “Our connection with PICO paved the way to meeting people and making connections while in Rwanda. The confidence we developed and relationships we formed at Saint Mary’s were our motivating factors.”

Shulte’s and Palmer’s goal was to depict the intrinsic beauty of the people of Rwanda 20 years after a horrific genocide, Palmer said.

“The photographs are windows to their souls depicting a genuine nature of love, courage, strength, and humility in the midst of suffering, strength and forgiveness 20 years post genocide,” Palmer said. “It parallels the core values of Saint Mary’s College, including faith and spirituality, justice, community and learning. My emotions revolve around gratitude towards the Rwandan’s to open their hearts and share their stories. It is a humbling feeling to get to share their powerful stories with the community here.”

“The people of Rwanda are authentic,” Palmer said. “A beauty exists there that allowed us to feel welcomed as their sisters in Christ. There is a simplicity in Rwanda that allowed us to reflect on the meaning of life where relationships are intensely valued. The people in Rwanda have overcome hardship and yet they do not dwell in negativity. Instead, they understand that each day is a gift that should be lived to the fullest.”

The Rwandan people opened Palmer’s eyes to what it means to be alive, she said.

“We were able to create relationships and have maintained contact,” Palmer said. “We were able to highlight our similarities and acknowledge our differences. This allowed us to gain perspective into humanity.”

For both Palmer and Schulte, the beauty of creating Project Rwanda was its unpredictability, Palmer said.

“We are not completely sure where it might lead,” Palmer said. “A year ago, Malea and I never could have imagined that we would travel to Rwanda. With faith, support and encouragement from our mentors and peers, and generous support from donors who are Saint Mary’s affiliates, we conquered our goal. It was an empowering experience, and Malea and I will most definitely utilize our teamwork to continue sharing in personal stories of people across the world.”

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