Carmel Valley teen tells of life-changing Rwanda trip


By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

Carmel Valley high school student Narayan Gopinathan spent three weeks with no electricity, paved roads or running water in Rwanda this summer — and the trip was so fulfilling that he wants to give the same experience to other youth.

Gopinathan, a Bishop’s School senior, is in the process of creating a website called, which connects students to the Batsinda Primary School in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. The school, where Gopinathan taught English to both children and adults, is in need of more volunteer teachers, and Gopinathan sees the opportunity as a life-changing experience.

“My time there was really special and it was hard leaving,” said the 17-year-old, telling a story about how each one of the 160 kids at the school put on a performance for him to show their appreciation.

There is a need for English teachers now more than ever because the official language used for educational purposes in Rwanda changed to English in 2008, and many school administrators and teachers do not speak English. For example, Gopinathan said, the pastors who own the Batsinda Primary School spoke very little English.

Gopinathan and his mother, Shuva, also organized a book drive and collected more than 200 pounds of reading material — four suitcases full — which they transported to Rwanda and donated to the school.

Gopinathan learned about the opportunity to go to Rwanda from his aunt, who works for the Center for Disease Control in Kigali. He volunteered under an organization called Nziza, meaning “beautiful” in the Kinyarwanda dialect, which promotes cross-cultural exchange between students in the United States and the area encompassing Rwanda and Southern Uganda.

As for his impression of the country, Gopinathan said he was expecting Rwanda, whose history includes a 1990s genocide, to be more chaotic — like India, where he has been to visit several times.

Gopinathan said it seems that when many Westerners think of Rwanda, they think it is dangerous. But Rwanda today is an incredibly peaceful country with low rates of crime and corruption, he said.

“It’s amazing that Rwanda has turned into such a stable and prosperous country,” said Gopinathan, who is captain of his school’s academic league and an editor at the school paper.

Gopinathan said the trip was particularly inspiring for him because he’s interested in economic development as a possible higher education path.

“I’d be interested in applying what I learned about Rwanda to other countries,” he said. “It’s amazing how the country has become an island of stability and order, and their president really cares about the people.”

To contact Gopinathan about volunteer opportunities or his trip to Rwanda, email