The Universal Language of Sports

Student-athletes experience the transformative power of diverse global community

A group of Kent State University student-athletes took a journey to the other side of the world to give of themselves. But they never expected how much they would receive in return.

Kent State staff and student-athletes visited Boneza, Rwanda, at the beginning of 2024 with Arise Rwanda, a non-profit organization working to transform the community, lifting residents from extreme poverty through education, clean water sources, healthcare, economic development and pastoral care. 

Kent State Student-Athletes in Boneza, Rwanda

During their time in Boneza, the Kent State group engaged with the locals through a day dedicated to sports, during which they distributed more than 200 pairs of shoes and 200 soccer balls. While the group’s efforts made an impact on the community in Boneza, they also found themselves forever changed.  

"The people in Boneza have left such a lasting impact on me. I will most certainly travel back there someday,” Callie Cunningham, a senior soccer player and psychology major, said. "There was a language barrier, but smiles are smiles and happiness is happiness. I didn’t need a translator to know that I love them, and that they loved us too.”  

Katie Schilling, assistant athletics director for student-athlete development and alumni engagement, was pleased to see the group in action.

Kent State Student-Athletes in Boneza, Rwanda

“I was so proud to see the athletes actively giving back to the community,” Schilling said. “Their commitment showcased the transformative influence sports can have on society."  

The group then visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. This experience shed light on the tragic events of 1994 and the profound resilience displayed by the Rwandan people. The student-athletes had the opportunity to reflect on the country's journey over the past three decades and their unwavering commitment to rebuild. 

After their visit to the memorial the group returned to the city of Kigali, where they engaged with the nation’s police, professors from the University of Rwanda and members of Rwanda's development board discuss the efforts being made to rebuild the nation.

Kent State student-athletes in Boneza, Rwanda

“Our trip was overall a beautiful experience,” Bella Carpenter, a junior field hockey player and exercise science major, said. “The people of Rwanda brought us great joy, and they are an inspiring example for all. Rwanda not only provided us with a new perspective but also immersed us into their history, culture and way of life. I am truly grateful for this eye-opening experience that Kent State Athletics provided for us.”

Kent State student-athletes visit Boneza, Rwanda

The trip served as an educational and transformative experience, broadening the perspectives of the group, fostering a deeper understanding of Rwanda's resilience and determination to rebuild after the devastating effects of the genocides. The group left with a new sense of purpose and first-hand experience of just how important community is.

“I cannot thank Kent State Athletics enough for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow,” Cunningham said, “not only as a student athlete but as a human being.”

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POSTED: Monday, February 5, 2024 11:44 AM
Updated: Monday, February 5, 2024 02:30 PM
Maddie Goerl, Flash Communications