Kuleba Exchange is an educational organization that uses photography and travel as a means of cultural exchange to foster tolerance, spark curiosity, and fuel imagination. Our goal is to create opportunities for disadvantaged youth to develop leadership skills while engaging with students from other cultures. We are especially committed to working with children who have survived war, genocide, and other atrocities. Our program makes it possible for students with limited resources to see the world and connect with children of diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Founded in 2007 by Yael Glick and Amy Rathgeb, their vision for the Kuleba Exchange was born out of their experience teaching at the Satellite Academy High School, a transfer school in the Lower East Side of New York City. While using a curriculum called Facing History Ourselves, created to "inspire, educate and teach tolerance to at-risk students" through a non-traditional curriculum, they themselves as educators were inspired to push the educational envelope. As Yael states in an article for the Facing History Ourselves website, after using the curriculum to teach about the Holocaust and the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the kids were particularly interested in learning about life in post-genocide Rwanda, which is still healing and reconciling.
In the summer of 2007, Yael and Amy had a rare opportunity to travel to Rwanda to not only have their students' questions answered, but to encourage kids orphaned by the genocide to share their experiences and voices through photography and video. As Yael recounts, [w]e traveled to Rwanda and worked in a village established for orphans of the genocide. We took with us our New York students' questions to the Rwandans as well as documents our students had prepared detailing their day to day lives in New York City. Our Rwandan students then responded to the New York students' inquiries and films through photography and by creating videos of their own. They shared moving testimony about their life before, during and after the genocide. At the end of the month we celebrated their work with a final art exhibit in the village. We found that our Rwandan students became just as interested in the experience of teenagers in New York as the New Yorkers had been in their lives. After our return home, our students from New York began communicating with the Rwandans by email, sending each other text and photos on a regular basis.
The following summer, Yael and Amy were joined by the Satellite Academy's social worker, Kuleba Exchange's vice president, Aimee Lichtenfeld, and four New York City students for a second trip to Rwanda. This trip allowed for the students from New York City and Rwanda to participate in a two-week cultural exchange. This trip was a success on many accounts. The following are words shared by the student participants.
I will never forget the people here in Rwanda because I believe they have truly made me into a better person...I now know that it is not what you wear or what you look like that makes you a good person, it is the way you think, the way you treat others and the way you use your heart in a positive way."- Lissette, New York
"Really it was an amazing time to me and to my friends and others in our village to have our guests. The friendship of all of them makes our lives get hope and our feeling back again." -Gilbert, Rwanda
The incredible photographs appearing in this post and numerous others were taken by both the New York City and Rwandan students themselves and can be found along with more information about the organization at the Kuleba Exchange website.