As teachers in developing countries, WorldTeach volunteers often work with talented and inspiring students who have overcome enormous challenges. One WorldTeach volunteer in Rwanda, Emma Eck, taught one of these students, Samson Ndindiriyimana, and was able to help him acquire a scholarship to study in the United States. Now, Emma is organizing a fundraiser to help Samson obtain a surgery that will help restore his hearing; Samson has had to surmount great odds as a deaf student and this surgery will allow him to hear again for the first time in 19 years. Read on to learn about Emma’s experience working with Samson in Rwanda and her current fundraising campaign…

I am currently organizing a fundraising campaign to benefit a former Rwandan student of mine named Samson Ndindiriyimana. He has been deaf since age 7, when he contracted meningitis in a refugee camp for Rwandan genocide survivors. Nearly 19 years later, he has the chance to undergo an operation that will restore his hearing. I created a video and a GoFundMe fundraising page to help cover surgery and physical therapy costs not covered by student insurance.

Out of hundreds of students that I taught in Rwanda, I’d say that Samson was in the top three. He probably had the best written English, although he has never heard a word of spoken English. Back when Samson was my student, I knew that he had a very good chance of acing the Rwandan National Exam, which would put him in the running to compete for a Presidential Scholarship to study in the United States. During a short trip home to the United States, I purchased an American Sign Language dictionary. When I returned to Rwanda, I handed it to Samson and told him that he had better start studying now if he wanted to get to the United States. I think he thought I was joking, but regardless, he started studying ASL religiously. Samson did get top marks on the National Exam (as I was sure that he would), but afterwards he expressed to me the futility of attending the scholarship interview. I told him to show up with his ASL dictionary and a personal essay in hand. I was sure that he would make an impression.

And what can I say? Just as I had been, the interviewers were blown away by how much Samson was able to accomplish despite his disability. He won a prestigious Presidential Scholarship which covers all of the costs for Samson to live and study in the United States. The universities that partner with the Rwandan Presidential Scholars Program scrambled to find a host family that could accommodate Samson’s needs as well as make accommodations for Samson during classes.

Two years later, Samson is now a sophomore at Hendrix College. He’s studying to be a civil engineer, and this summer he will be conducting Special Education research in East Africa. He hopes to be instrumental in the establishment of the first public high school for deaf students in Rwanda.

It’s quite possible that Samson would have made it to where he is now without me and without WorldTeach. After all, he is a quite remarkable fellow. But I like to think that I, along with the WorldTeach Rwanda Program, had an instrumental (albeit small) part to play in Samson’s success. This is the best of what WorldTeach has to offer: a chance to make a difference in the life of someone who is going to make an even bigger difference. That’s why we do what we do.

-Emma Eck, WorldTeach Rwanda 2009-2010
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