TCU program awards full scholarship to Rwandan genocide survivor


    In an effort to bring awareness, promote human rights and globalize the campus, the Intensive English Program (IEP) is sponsoring a young man from Rwanda to help improve his English skills and assist his goal of becoming the future president of his home country.

    This is the first year the IEP has offered the scholarship, which covers all expenses including program tuition, housing, food and textbooks, said IEP Director Kurk Gayle. The university has partnered with Lewis & Clark College, located in Portland, Ore., to support rebuilding efforts and English education programs in Rwanda.

    According to Joann Geddes, co-director of the Academic English Studies program at Lewis & Clark College, the scholarship was founded in 2006 after a former student, Michael Graham, was inspired by his time studying abroad in Rwanda. Because the official language of Rwanda was switched from French to English, Graham wanted to bring students to the United States to improve their English skills.

    “We hope to equip them with the skills that will allow them to be successful contributors to their society,” Geddes said. “We also hope to assist them in gaining the language and critical thinking skills necessary to maintain and increase their involvement in human rights issues in their home country.”

    This year’s recipient is Yannick Tona. Tona was four years old when he lost multiple family members during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He said despite the horrific experience, he has since dedicated his life to being an advocate, especially for youth, raising awareness and encouraging action against genocide, discrimination and bullying.

    “We are all human beings and we should support each other more,” Tona said. “If we can realize just how much power we have then we can make a change, and that starts with just being nice to each other.”

    Since the age of 11, Tona has done multiple speaking tours around the globe. He has spoken in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Dubai and many African countries.

    Tona said his other passion is politics, and that he hopes to earn a political science degree from the university and one day become the president of Rwanda. He also said he would like to bring a group of students from the university to Rwanda for three weeks to learn about the genocide, culture and history of his country.

    According to Gayle, a new Rwanda Student Committee has been formed on campus. The committee will participate in the selection process of a Rwandan student each academic year to receive the IEP scholarship. Gayle said the committee members will provide a support system for the Rwandan student and foster growth in his or her career and life goals.

    Gayle said that every dean at the university personally contributed to the new Rwanda scholarship this year, and that with the help of Mike Scott, director of scholarships and student financial aid, enough funding may already have been raised to underwrite the award next year.

    If you would like to get involved with the Rwanda Student Committee, contact Zhenya Gurina-Rodriguez at

    To hear more of Tona’s story, you can visit his website at He will also be speaking, showing videos and participating in a Q&A session about his experience in the Brown-Lupton University Union Auditorium on Nov. 27 at 6 p.m.