Rwanda’s First Speech Pathologist Comes from University of Utah
Eli Munyankindi became an orphan at age 10 during the Rwandan Genocide. At one point, he wasn’t sure he finished high school, but against all odds he just finished his Master’s degree in speech language pathology at the University of Utah College of Health. He plans to return home to Rwanda, where he will become his country’s first speech-language specialist.
He says no one knows anything about speech language pathology in his country, so his primary goal is to help educate people. He has accepted a position as a lecturer at the University of Rwanda, and because of his success, has been invited to meet Rwanda’s president.
Michael Blomgren, Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders Chair, served as Munyankindi’s academic advisor. He is the man who spearheaded the effort to create the scholarship that enabled Munyankindi to attend the program.
At 31 years old, he hopes to add a clinical job to his academic position, to enable him to work directly with individuals who need help. He plans to work with people who stutter, those who have lost speech abilities during wartime, those who have thick accents, or suffer from other speech issues that prevent them from being able to fully participate in society.
Over the course of his three years at the University, Munyankindi was more than a student.; he was an unofficial ambassador for Rwanda. His classmates chose him to speak at graduation, where he gave a hopeful speech, thanking his advisor and professors for making things possible.
“I was unlucky to be born in a third-world country, and worse, a country that experienced genocide that claimed the lives of a million people in just three months,” Munyankindi said in the address. “However, I was lucky to be born in a country that rose from the ashes to reinvent itself, a country that believes its main resource is its people, and a country that believes the key to development is education. That country is Rwanda. That is why I am here.”
When he leaves the United States, he will go back to Rwanda as an ambassador of the University of Utah. The college has plans to sponsor another student from Rwanda to earn a College of Health degree. They hope Munyankindi can be of assistance in vetting another student once he returns to Rwanda.
Speech language pathology issues are not limited to the United States. People everywhere suffer from a number of conditions and disorders affecting speech. Bringing knowledge and expertise of speech pathology from the United States to Rwanda can help those affected there. The more we do to spread knowledge, the more people can be helped.