In The News: Schmidt Shares Experiences from Rwanda

Monique Schmidt, class of 1998, emphasized the power of service at the Augustana Thought Leader Forum on Friday, April 8, in Sioux Falls. Her presentation, “Reciprocal Transformations: A Discovery of Soul Through Service from Augustana to Africa,” discussed her experiences as program director for the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

The following story appeared in the Argus Leader on Saturday, April 9:

Augie grad brings hope to Rwanda
By Sarah Reinecke

Monique Schmidt is a teacher in a place where young women are starving for an education.

It's her job to empower those women with the knowledge to open a new future.

Schmidt, a Freeman native and 1998 Augustana graduate, is the program director for the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda. She has 70 students, ages 18 to 25, most of whom are orphans of the 1994 genocide.

Schmidt spoke Friday at the Augustana Thought Leader Forum of the transformative power of love and the change she has seen in her students since Akilah, which means "wisdom," opened in February.

"The young women came into our school with no eye contact, no smiling, no dreams, no vision and no hope," Schmidt said. "Now, they are smiling and laughing, they believe in themselves. ... We may teach our students to smile again, but they teach us to believe, to truly believe in life."

Schmidt urged more than 100 people in the audience at C.J. Callaways to show love through service and said that service could be as simple as smiling at a stranger, volunteering at a local library or listening to a friend.

"Service is about finding, respecting and nurturing the humanity that is in each of us," Schmidt said. "If we love each other on an individual basis, if we extend ourselves for the growth of each other, there is less global chaos."

Schmidt spoke of how her mission to serve began her freshman year in college on a trip to Texas with Habitat for Humanity. She then studied in France and lived in a village in Benin, West Africa, while serving two years in the Peace Corps. She also has taught poetry to inmates, and in 2005, published a book about Africa called "Last Moon Dancing."

Schmidt's parents say their daughter always has had a passion for service and say the position at Akilah Institute for Women is a perfect job for her.

"Monique has always been super sensitive to human beings, so concerned about the welfare of other people and what she can do to help others," Mary Schmidt said. "Her concerns matured as she matured. And she's kind of a magnet to good deeds."

Audience member Jamie Horter said Schmidt's message about helping women and women's rights is an important one to share.

"I hope people spread the message of what she said, especially when talking about love for others and trying to extend that to help other people, no matter where they're located, whether it's the Midwest or Africa," said Horter, who graduated from Augustana last spring.

Kelly Sprecher
Director of Communications & Media Relations