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A healing nation values service among neighbors

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Kayla Britt ('09, Communication) is a community health volunteer with the Peace Corps in Rwanda, assisting in a rural community health center. Here Britt, right, is with a community health worker during the National Vaccination Campaign. | Photo by courtesy of Kayla Britt
Kayla Britt ('09, Communication) is a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in a public health center at a remote Rwandan village about an hour's drive from the nearest paved road and bus line. So when she has to travel to the road, it's on the back of a motorcycle. "Motorcycle accidents are very common in Rwanda," she says. "Since I'm an hour motorcycle ride from the main road, Peace Corps issued me a helmet to wear. I'm not the only one who thinks it's pretty cool!" | Photo by courtesy of Kayla Britt
Kayla Britt ('09, Communication) is a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working at a rural community health center in Rwanda. She says many of the Rwandan staff members who also live at the clinic treat her like a little sister. Here, she's with a baby who was born at the health center on Britt's birthday. "All the nurses kept calling him my twin," she says. | Photo by courtesy of Kayla Britt

The last Saturday of each month, Peace Corps Volunteer Kayla Britt (’09, Communications) joins in a national Rwandan healing ritual that is part work party, part social gathering.

Umuganda is a national day of service bringing neighbors together to socialize and build schools, houses, roads – and a stronger sense of community. It’s one of many ways Rwanda hopes to prevent another atrocity like the 1994 Rwandan Genocide that killed as many as 1 million people.

Recently, Britt joined people in her rural, remote village to build new classrooms at the local school.

“People were very impressed I was carrying stones,” Britt says. “It’s not very ladylike. People were asking, ‘You don’t even want to rest?’”

Britt, from Lacey, lives and works in the village’s health center, where the other women often treat her as their little sister. But strangers sometimes wonder if Britt’s own history is intertwined with the Rwandan Genocide.

Many Rwandan children with a Belgian parent were evacuated to Belgium during the genocide, Britt says. They have since returned as adults and are readjusting to the culture and language of their birth.

“Lots of times people assume I’m one of those returned children,” says Britt, whose parents are African-American and Filipino. “It’s a delicate thing, when I meet people who have different assumptions about me, how I should be acting and which culture I should be embracing.”