New organization presents Rwandan genocide survivor as first speaker

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    Amit Lalvani wanted to create a space for students to share perspectives and engage in dialogue outside of the classroom, so he created FrogTalks.

    “FrogTalks will show a whole lot of perspectives to students,” Lalvani, a sophomore accounting and finance double major, said. “It will train students to engage in dialogue and be respectful of other people’s perspectives. I don’t think all of us respect other people’s experiences, and that’s where FrogTalks is going to come into play.”

    Hillary Shepheard, the vice president of marketing and communication for FrogTalks, said the organization “creates an intellectually stimulating environment where people can see talks and lectures and different perspectives that are global.”

    Shepheard said that FrogTalks are based off of the TED format. TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, is a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading and sponsors talks about various topics.

    Lalvani, who is also a community regent in Milton Daniel Hall, said the idea of FrogTalks came around fall break from his interest in TED.

    “I try to watch a TED Talk every night, and I thought it would be good if students actually had the opportunity to participate in a TED-like environment,” he said.

    Right before Christmas break this semester, Lalvani said he tried to get help through the Leadership Center to make FrogTalks an official organization.

    “During my break, I was working on drafting a constitution, getting the bylaws, trying to figure out what kind of events FrogTalks is going to have, trying to figure out what kind of organization FrogTalks is going to be, and now it’s an organization,” he said.

    For months, the five board members–Lalvani, Shepheard, Yannick Tona, the vice president of event planning, Allana Wooley, the vice president of membership and Jake Porter, the vice president of operations–had been planning the first FrogTalks event, which took place on Wednesday night.

    It was called “Ripples of Change,” and Tona, a Rwandan citizen currently enrolled in the Intensive English Program at TCU, shared his experience of the Rwandan genocide.

    Tona recalled the experience “that changed his life” in just minutes. He said the Rwandan genocide took all of his family members but four, one of which was his 3-year-old sister who survived by living in a well for two months.

    Tona said he and his mother walked three weeks without food from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to avoid being killed in the genocide.

    He said that experience in his life inspired him to make a change in the world and in his home country of Rwanda. He called others in the audience to find something they are passionate about, to make sacrifices and to take action.

    “We are the ones. We are the saviors. We are the ones that will make our world a better place. It is a choice,” he said.

    After his speech, Tona said his goal was to share the importance of actions and how the choices of individuals can incite change for the better.

    “I loved the opportunity to be the first speaker of FrogTalks, and it was more special considering I’m on the board of the organization,” Tona said. “It’s a big deal, to go into the books as the first FrogTalks speaker.”

    Fifty-two people attended the event, according to the sign up sheet, and Shepheard said that was a great starting point for the first FrogTalks event.

    "Now we know that we can bring students in and encourage them to gain the confidence to speak in front of a crowd and share things that might be valuable to other people," she said.

    As far as the future of FrogTalks, Lalvani said the organization is “going big.”

    “We are out here to create a learning environment outside the classroom, so it won’t be like a classroom, but it will be intellectual and fun at the same time. We will reach the entire TCU campus,” he said.

    There are no official events scheduled for the rest of the semester, but Shepheard said FrogTalks would start recruiting people to speak after the success and campus awareness of the “Ripples of Change” event.