When Piper Sutherland heard about an opportunity to spend some time in Rwanda learning and volunteering with locals and other travelers, she knew that this was something that she had to do. The only barrier to her plans was a lack of funds to pay for the three-week program with Global Youth Connect in Kigali, and after doing some research it seemed like there were no opportunities for someone like her who was young, wanted to travel with purpose and already out of college. Fortunately, Piper found and applied for HI USA’s Explore the World Travel Scholarship, which is open to people aged 18 – 30 who have a service-trip planned but need financial assistance, and she’ll be heading out on her first solo trip to Africa in the summer of 2017.
“I had found a program around genocide and reconciliation where they do a lot of work specifically around women’s empowerment and education after the genocide, so I was really excited about the possibility of joining them,” says 24-year-old Piper. “But it was more than I could afford without the scholarship, so I’m really grateful to HI USA.”
The program with Global Youth Connect, which also offers trips to Colombia and South Africa, involves spending three weeks with about 10 to 15 volunteers from Rwanda and the rest of the world as members of the Human Rights Delegation. The participants will learn about the reconstruction efforts and aftermath of the 1994 genocide and spend some time specializing in projects that work with refugees and Rwandans still living with the effects of past events. Piper’s main focus and passion has always been education, particularly international education, and she’s looking forward to learning more about the country’s efforts to empower girls in schools while volunteering with an organization that researches gender-based violence and promotes awareness of inequalities stemming from gender.
“It’s as much of a learning opportunity with service as it is an avenue for cross-cultural understanding,” Piper says, “and we’ll get exposure to and understanding of what NGOs, non-profits and the country’s government are doing after the genocide as well.”
Piper studied education when she was in college and currently works for a non-profit in San Francisco that works to provide support for low-income youth who are usually the first in their families to go to college. The trip to Rwanda will also serve as an exploration of the different avenues Piper can take as a recent graduate and newcomer of the work-force to develop a career, whether that’s in education development here in the U.S. or at an international level.
There’s a tension between choosing to focus on global versus local issues, Piper believes, but she thinks that whether she ultimately chooses to work with domestically focused or international initiatives, the exposure to different world viewpoints and perspectives, and the challenges she might face in Rwanda being out of her comfort zone, will be valuable either way.
Wherever this may lead, Piper is just excited to be able to take this trip, and she values being part of the community of young travelers enabled by HI USA to see the world and make it a better place in their own little ways. “It’s been compelling to meet other winners, and that’s something I’ve appreciated,” she says. “It comes across so clearly how people are so psyched for their trip. I think travel is so essential, especially in this day and age when we’re so divided. It’s the ultimate way to expand your perspective and broaden an understanding of ways of doing things.”
And as for any advice she has for someone who’s planning to apply for the Explore the World Travel Scholarship for 2017? It’s all about conveying your genuine enthusiasm as much as you can, because that’s what matters the most.
HI USA Tip: Applications for the 2017 Explore the World Travel Scholarship close on March 15, 2017 – so hurry and apply now! Read another scholarship recipient’s experience traveling abroad for thanks to HI USA.