Courtesy of Souzane Murekatete

Dallaire, Graham scholars utilize AES program

The annual Roméo Dallaire and Michael Graham Scholarships each award one recipient full tuition to Lewis & Clark’s Academic English Studies (AES) program. Souzane Murekatete is the 2020-21 Dallaire Scholar, while Violeta Molina Santos is this year’s Graham Scholar.

The AES program is a one-year course of study that is focused on developing advanced English skills for a higher education setting. Founded in 1972, the program is coming up on its 50th anniversary. 

The Dallaire Scholarship was established in 2005 by Michael Graham ’05, who traveled to Kigali, Rwanda while studying at LC to create a film about the Rwandan genocide. While working on this project, Graham met aspiring filmmaker Romeo Umulisa, and petitioned LC to waive his tuition and lodging. Umulisa became LC’s first Dallaire Scholar after retired Canadian Army Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire heard about Graham’s efforts and decided to cover Umulisa’s travel fees. Since then, one person from Rwanda has been selected every year to continue the scholarship’s legacy.

According to Academic English Studies Administrative Specialist Susan Wynne, who serves as the scholarships’ committee chair, the Graham Scholarship was established in 2020 after the success of the Dallaire Scholarship. The Graham Scholarship is reserved for immigrants or refugees living in the Portland area.

“We saw how people, the Dallaire scholars, were going back and making a difference in their community,” Wynne said. “We felt we had gotten to the point where the Dallaire Scholarship had been endowed and were pretty successful with our fundraising. We thought, well, we can do more.”

For Santos, a refugee from Guatemala who came to the United States in 2018, the opportunity has already paid off. English is her third language.

“I am thankful to receive this opportunity (of) the scholarship because it’s something helpful for me to grow now, with myself speaking more and also to have more communication,” Santos said.

Santos graduated from McDaniel High School in Portland in 2021 and was accepted at George Fox University, but after receiving the Graham Scholarship, she deferred for one year in part due to the high expectations of academics in college.

“It’s not like when I was in high school, I received a lot of help from my teachers … but I know when you are in university, it’s different,” Santos said. “You need to do all of those things on your own.”

Instructor and Director of Academic English Studies Laura Shier recognized the unique nature of these scholarships. According to Shier, most similar scholarships are tied to undergraduate programs.

“It is special to be able to have a scholarship dedicated specifically to a student who wants to improve their academic English work so that they can be more prepared and more successful in an academic pursuit,” Shier said. “That is a difference that’s unique, that’s special.”

Shier said that these scholarship recipients, as well as AES students as a whole, add great value to the LC campus in part by diversifying the student body. However, Shier also noted that the scholars have aspirations of helping others and that developing their English skills is one step in this process.

For Murekatete, the opportunity afforded by the Dallaire Scholarship is one way for her to grow her nonprofit, which she founded in 2016 after graduating from the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda with a degree in entrepreneurship. The nonprofit, Iriza-Ntako Heritage Ltd., is a cooperative that provides traditional basket weaving skills to disadvantaged Rwandan women, many of whom are young mothers and victims of domestic abuse. Her nonprofit then sells the goods to an international market so the women can earn an income, an opportunity which they otherwise might not receive.

“I need to invest my knowledge in these women,” Murekatete said. “I don’t have much money, which can change the lives of people, but as long as I share with them the knowledge that I have, I can change the lives of many people.”

By improving her English through the AES program, Murekatete said she is better able to communicate with an international market, especially as English becomes increasingly globalized. She is grateful for the skills the program is developing so she can better aid others. 

“Thank you for the Dallaire Scholarship because they are literally doing an amazing job and they are helping people,” Murekatete said. “Honestly, giving me this opportunity of acquiring English skills, they are not changing my life alone. They are changing many lives of women back in Rwanda.”

Santos also plans to help others once completing the AES program. She plans to study nursing at George Fox University, inspired by the fact that her father struggled with medical issues in Guatemala and she was unable to help due to being in the United States. While Santos could not help her father, she hopes to help others in the future.

“My father, many years ago, he had a problem with him, some disease,” Santos said. “It was so hard to take care of him. But when I left my country and I came here, I was not doing anything to help my dad, and this year he passed away.” 

Murekatete does not have specific plans after completing the AES program other than to return to Rwanda to continue working on her nonprofit. 

“Honestly, I don’t have a big plan for myself,” Murekatete said. “Because I have a deep inner desire to help my community, I need to serve my community mainly. I’m planning to go immediately back to my home and serve my country.”

According to Wynne, both Murekatete and Santos perfectly embody who the Dallaire and Graham Scholars should be.

“Both of them are so inspiring,” Wynne said. “Every time I talk to them, I just think these are the perfect people for a scholarship.”

The Dallaire and Graham Scholarship applications for the 2021-22 year recently closed and the committee will soon begin deliberations. They plan to make offers in February or March. According to Wynne, narrowing the selections down to one candidate for each scholarship is a tough process, but a fulfilling one in the end.

“To be honest with you, it’s very difficult,” Wynne said. “I’ve been part of the selection committee for many, many years and you want to give this scholarship to every one of these people.”

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