(Photo used by permission of Elena Bennett)
Junior girls at Gasiza Secondary High School in Rwanda pick out SCDS senior pen pals.

“I want to write to that person.”

In July 2015, music teacher Elena Bennett traveled to Gasiza Secondary School in Rwanda, bringing with her a copy of the Medallion – Country Day’s yearbook.

While observing an English class, Bennett thought a good exercise would be to write letters to Country Day students.

“Each student looked through the yearbook at pictures of this year’s senior class, and chose the person they wanted to write to,” Bennett said.

“I told them to pick a face, and then I helped pronounce the names.”

When she returned, Bennett passed the letters on to Brooke Wells, head of high school, who handed them out two months ago to each member of Country Day’s senior class.

“We’ve never had any communication between us and the students from Rulindo before, so I was confused at first,” senior Zoe Dym said.

“But then I realized that it’s really important for us to have a real connection with them.”

Senior Ben Felix agreed.

“It’s not every day that I get to talk to someone or meet someone from that part of the world, so it’s kind of cool to hear about their hobbies and the kind of things they like,” he said.

In their letters, each student from Rulindo shared their hobbies, likes and dislikes, along with information about their families and studies.

But Bennett said she didn’t give the Gasiza students much guidance around what to write.

“On the wall of their classroom, I drew a template of a letter, but I didn’t say, “Make sure you write this, this and this.”

“I told them, ‘Talk about things you like, ask them questions, give information about yourself.’

“But I also wanted the letters to be different. I wanted them to write in their own words, in their own way,” Bennett said.

The Gasiza students took Bennett’s advice.

“I like sport, like playing volleyball and football, and I’m fanatic about Arsenal team from England and Real Madrid from Spain,” Alphonse Hakizimana wrote to senior Serajh Esmail.

“Not only that, there are some singers I love who come from America like Chris Brown, wise Beyoncé and also Fifty Cent.”

“The girl who wrote to me was very curious about our school, how we learn, about our futures,” said senior America Lopez.

In her letter to Lopez, Ancille Byukusenge asked, “What are your plans for your future? What are you dreaming about doing after you finish studying?”

Lopez said she was surprised and impressed that the students took time to write.

“The letters are so polite and sweet and respectful,” Lopez said.

As for the connection between the two schools, Father Onesphore, who visited from Rwanda the week of May 23, points out the importance of communication.

“The partnership, the culture, the festive things, the laughter: these are the important things. Material things like money…come after,” Father Onesphore said.

“The knowledge, knowing each other, understanding each other’s culture – making connections is more important than money.”

The French Club also contributed letters in French to be sent with the seniors’ responses.

Father Onesphore took the letters with him when he returned to Rwanda on June 1.

Lopez and senior Saachi Sikaria said they would continue correspondence with the Gasiza Secondary School students.

“If I can someday go to Rwanda, I’ll have a friend to meet,” Sikaria said.

“I definitely think we should keep doing this at Country Day,” Lopez added.

“The only thing I would change is starting this earlier. These are from July 2015, and I think it would have been cool to see how we change over the years.”

—By Sahej Claire

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