Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 26, 1994

Student Joins Rwandan Relief Efforts
By Christine A. Rowett

As a volunteer with a Christian organization working in
Rwanda, Bethany Bransford helped set up an orphanage and
administer health care to thousands.
    Sadly, many of the war orphans did not live to be
adopted. But Bransford, a committed Christian, found solace
in the losses.
    "I always felt my arms weren't big enough [for all the
children]," the senior Nursing student said. "In heaven, they
would never be put down. They would always be loved. That was
a big comfort to me."
    In June, Bransford, 21, decided she wanted to go to
Rwanda, the embattled African country plagued by military
uprisings and massacres for the past 30 years. She contacted
the Christian relief organization Samaritan Purse, and by
June 14 she was there.
    Bransford recalled the 2 1/2-hour drive to the former
town of Rutare, which had been transformed into a refugee
    "The whole countryside was completely bare. It was an
eerie feeling," Bransford said. "We didn't see but two people
on our drive."
    When they reached Rutare, however, they saw more than
105,000 people, living in makeshift huts in a town that was
previously home to 5,000.
    The population included between 400 and 500 parentless
children, so the volunteers, including members of Samaritan
Purse and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, first established an
orphanage. They also set up immunizations clinics and
dispensed vitamins.
    For many, they were too late. AIDS, dysentery and
starvation claimed their victims. Bransford said the exposure
to death and suffering gave her a new perspective.
    "In the medical profession, sometimes we feel like we've
failed," she said. "I was reminded of a couple of passages in
the Bible. The Lord talked about letting the children come to

A history of violence
    In "Exile from Rwanda: Background to an Invasion,"
Catherine Watson, consultant to the U.S. Committee for
Refugees, traces the unrest in Rwanda to a well-established
caste system that was dissolved when the monarchy was
overthrown in 1959. The royal family and other notables were
Tutsi; soldiers and croppers were Hutu; and a small group of
hunters and potters were Twa. 
    Bransford and a small group of volunteers left the
refugee camp and went to the Rwandan capital of Kigali, west
of Ngoro-lero, where a substantial number of Tutsi had been
killed, reportedly by Hutu civilians. The previous violence
there was evident from bullet holes in the door of the home
where they stayed and from the blood-soaked backyard.
    "There was a real sense of rage and violence in that
house," Bransford said. Though there were several bedrooms,
the group spent the first nights together in the living room.
    The volunteers found further aftermath of violence at
the clinic where they worked: scant metal beds, several
directly under a hole in the ceiling caused by a mortar
    "I shed a lot of tears," Bransford said.
    Harvard medical student Steve Swanson was among the
volunteers at the clinic. For Bransford, he was a "godsend."  
    "It was great just to have someone there to vent,"
Bransford said.  "It's amazing when you're in an experience
like that how you get to know people very quickly."

Lessons in life
    Bransford's family has a history of service to humanity.
Her father, a surgeon, is a Hopkins graduate who worked with
Samaritan Purse in Somalia. Her mother taught at a missionary
academy for years. Two years ago the couple, both
missionaries in Kenya for the past 17 years, adopted a 2
1/2-year-old boy who had been abandoned.
    One of Bransford's older brothers is in medical school
at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.; the other is in
a discipleship program studying with a pastor in Texas. 
    "I always knew I wanted to do medical work," Bransford
said. Though she was initially pre-med, the future nurse
changed her course of study after talking with several
medical professionals, including her father.
    "I know he would like to spend more time with patients,"
Bransford said. "In nursing I could do that more."
    In Rwanda, it was the patients and their families who
helped her.
    "It was an incredible time to be in that country,"
Bransford said. "I just love the people there."
    Bransford specifically recalled talking with a Rwandan
woman who had witnessed the brutal killing of her own
brother. The women met at a small church.
    "Her faith was just amazing," Bransford said.

Coming home
    By the time the group was ready to leave the home that
had been filled with rage, "there was such love and happiness
there," Bransford said. It was transformed, she said, by the
positive work and attitudes of the volunteers.
    She admits returning to Hopkins was "a little bit of
culture shock" after witnessing the brutalities of war and
the sparse medical facilities in Rwanda. "It renewed my
desire to go into nursing and help people," she said. "It
made me more excited to finish off school and learn as much
as I can."
    She and Swanson have since had some emotional
conversations that included "memories we hadn't dealt with
because we were just too busy," she said.
    But she has no regrets.
    "Even though some of the work was seemingly a failure,
it was not in vain," she said. "I really feel that God wanted
me to do this for the summer."

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