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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood Heights youth makes service his senior trip

Aug 28, 2017 10:20AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Cottonwood Heights residents Ryan and Heather Seal volunteered in Rwanda. (Heather Seal/courtesy)

By Shaun Delliskave |  [email protected]

Ask most Utah high school seniors if they are planning on a senior trip before they head off to college, go on an LDS mission or start a full-time job, and the typical response might be a long camping trip in the mountains, Disneyland or even some exotic beach locale. But not so for recent Brighton High graduate Ryan Seal; he chose to go to genocide-scarred Rwanda to provide services to a clinic and school in a country coming to grips with its past. 

Gisenyi, Rwanda is a world away from the Willow Creek Country Club where Ryan works and far less affluent than the communities in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, where he will serve for of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) starting in September. 

Ryan spent this summer working with the Ndengera Foundation, an affiliate ministry of the Church of the Nazarene in Rwanda run by Pastor Simon Pierre. The foundation’s objective is to provide assistance to the orphans and other vulnerable people living in the Rubavu District in northwest Rwanda.

“My uncle is a gynecologic oncologist who goes on a medical humanitarian mission every year. He went to Rwanda six years ago and knew he wanted to go back when the opportunity was available. He contacted my mom (Heather Seal, a registered nurse) to see if she could go and be part of the medical team. My mom wanted me to go to have the opportunity of serving and giving back — especially before my mission,” said Ryan. 

Rwanda was decimated in the 1990s as rival Tutsi and Hutu clans engaged in a civil war. The Hutu-dominated government killed an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis in just 100 days. Nearly 2,000,000 refugees fled the country. Today Rwanda is recovering relatively peacefully, but the average life expectancy is only 59.7 years.

Ryan’s group divided their efforts between medical and humanitarian services. Prior to the group’s departure, they raised money and collected supplies to stock the clinic and school. Many Cottonwood Heights citizens made donations to help support the foundation. 

“So many people in our neighborhood and community brought over suitcases and supplies for us to take with us on our trip. It was amazing to see all of the donations come in and see people from all over wanting to help the people of Rwanda,” said Ryan.

Once he arrived in Rwanda, Ryan was assigned to work with the humanitarian team, while his mother worked in the medical clinic. “My group spent most of our time at the preschool playing games, singing songs, teaching English, teaching dental hygiene and passing out the supplies.”

Some of the supplies Ryan distributed were feminine hygiene kits called “Days for Girls,” which included washable sanitary napkin kits and were prepared by local LDS wards. 

Many factors cause young female Rwandans to drop out of school, including the high cost and limited availability of feminine hygiene products. Ryan noted, “At first I thought the high school next door to the preschool was an ‘All Boy School’ because I didn’t see any girls, but then I realized that is how high school is everywhere in Africa.” 

The medical group had nearly 500 women show up for clinical services in just one weekend.

The volunteer group taught young Rwandan women how to create “Days for Girls” kits for future use. One of the biggest challenges, however, was the language barrier — very few spoke French, most spoke Kinyarwandan. 

Ryan had his own health challenges while in Rwanda and needed the medical team to treat him. He recovered and was able to return working at the school where he developed many friendships with the children.

When asked what he learned from his experience, Ryan said, “Those kids had barely anything, yet they were still so happy. It was awesome to see and realize that happiness isn’t found in material goods. We have so much stuff and most of it we really don’t need. Instead of always wanting more, we should be grateful what we have.”

Ryan feels his experience has changed him. “This trip has given me a new perspective on life and how to treat others. It’s amazing to realize how recently that (the genocide) took place in Rwanda and how they were able to forgive and move forward with love for one another. It is only because of that love and forgiveness that the people of Rwanda were able to move forward and be united in rebuilding their country once again.”

More information on the Ndengera Foundation can be found on online at