This week, students in the Anne Frank Project at Buffalo State returned to campus after a two week trip to Rwanda. They set out with the goal of training teachers in the East Africa country new methods to keep students engaged in the classroom, but ended up doing a lot of learning of their own.
"I felt like I left with more than I gave because they gave us love, honestly," Wilfried Folaranmi, a senior at Buffalo State, said. "They welcomed us in with open arms."
The Anne Frank Project started ten years ago with a theatrical show on campus. It centered around the story of Anne Frank, but included a Jewish and a Rwandan version of the young woman. The message: every genocide has an Anne Frank.
Today, students take skills from the theater department at the school and introduce them to teachers in Rwanda. They demonstrate "drama-based education". It's a method that uses storytelling, acting and other activities to help students learn.
"Most of the students go in the classroom and sit down," Folaranmi said. "They just want to learn the material and leave. But, us introducing drama-based education, they have the freedom to move around and express themselves."
The program's director, Drew Kahn, describes the trip as an exchange of ideas, lessons and experiences. The students, and he, often learn more from their friends in Rwanda than the other way around.
"We're going there to develop our partnership," Kahn said. "It's reciprocal. It's collaborative. It's equal. It's filled with dignity."
Kahn said the lessons of community and forgiveness they take away from these trips is invaluable.
"I think the central lesson that I come away with every year is that we comes before me," he said.
"Instead of just tell your mom and your boyfriend, they held me accountable," Lilly Inglut said. She's a post-graduate at Buffalo State and made the trip twice. "They said, so you were here last time. So what are you doing to enact this forgiveness?"
Part of the Anne Frank Project is sharing those lessons with people here in Buffalo. Every year, the students develop a play they will present to Buffalo Public Schools students.