The Citadel in East Africa

By Cadet Lucy McArthur, ‘26

Honor, duty and respect. These three words encompass the character of a Citadel man or woman and constitute the core values that all cadets seek to personally claim from the moment they first step onto campus. These hallmark virtues have been amply evidenced all across The Citadel since the first class reported in 1842, upheld by countless heroes of the past and they continue to be instilled in the future leaders of tomorrow. Four cadets from The Citadel Class of 2025 and one cadet from the Class of 2026 charted a new path in seeking these virtues by challenging the status quo of the normative college student when they chose to spend winter furlough endeavoring to both embody and spread these core values in East Africa. 

After nearly 11 months of researching, planning and coordinating, Cadets James Ives, Moses King, Wilson Lesslie, Andrew Palmer, Gustavo Pizza, and myself embarked on a service trip to build trail routes outside of the Kigali region in Rwanda, conduct research on children’s educational practices and resources, and meet with military officers and diplomats of the Rwandan Defense Force in an educational and cultural exchange. In short, while we successfully met all of these predetermined goals, what we did not anticipate was the inestimable value of the unexpected gift we were freely given in East Africa. And it all started with the children from Kicukiro. 

During the trail-building process, we were led by children ranging in age from two to 10 up into the mountains of Kigali to reach our building locations at an elevation of 6,000 feet. Quickly becoming friends despite both language and cultural barriers, we taught them to take pictures with my camera, and in exchange, they expertly showed us the safest ways to go up and down the mountains each day. They laughed and ran without effort up and down the steep mountain paths as we struggled to acclimate our lungs and simply breathe, trying in vain to keep up with them. They held our hands to guide us back down to the bottom once we finished clearing the paths each day, parting ways with us when we passed their various mud, stone and tin homes with waves and shouts of “Goodbye Muzungu!” and “See you tomorrow!” 

Suffice it to say, it was bittersweet indeed on the last day we saw them after finally completing the new trails for mountain villagers to reach their work sites. Although we had worked to provide them with sustainable, eco-friendly trails that will ultimately help them build landslide-safe road structures, we learned an unanticipated but valuable lesson from them that they did not work or even intend to teach us. 

As I mentioned earlier, we all struggled with the barrier of language, but the cultural barrier was harder to breach from our side. We left the United States seeking to further stake out our claim on honor, duty and respect in this service trip. And perhaps we did. 

But we also thought that we’d bring these core Citadel virtues to Africa, and somehow add something, or make things better. And perhaps we did. 

Although half-reluctant to confess, I now readily admit that I had to travel halfway around the globe to be given a life lesson in gratitude by children born into poverty in a third-world nation — still recovering from a genocidal civil war. One would think that this destiny would naturally lend itself to despair, hopelessness or anger. But we did not find anger or hopelessness or despair. Instead, we found gratitude, fortitude and hope in the shape of children who rushed out to embrace us each day with laughter, joy and help.

In spite of our great wealth and ease of living in America, we were – without judgment or jealousy – reminded by children who barely have a roof over their heads, and yet live every day as if they were millionaires, to simply enjoy the beauty of being alive in the world. We learned, or rediscovered, in interacting with these smiling, energetic children that beauty and the joy of life is really all around us. 

When I recall these few weeks, I am aware that we collectively like to blame “growing up” and “being responsible” for overlooking beauty or stopping to ponder the poetic in the world around us. We are so focused on things like scrolling through our highly personalized, algorithmic-oriented phones, on what we have to do to accomplish our next goal, or on how others may perceive us, that we miss out on being grateful for that which God has given us for today.

These days, I think about the Rwandan children with whom we spent several weeks, remembering when I look at the photographs that each of them learned to take. I will always remember their bright smiles, sweet laughter and simple love of play. What I hope, what the six of us hope, is that along with upholding the core values of The Citadel, we will also represent a generation that seeks out the beauty that is all around, smiles at the times to come and practices gratitude for all we are blessed to have been given.

Cadet Lucy McArthur is from Somerset, Kentucky, and serves as 4th Battalion’s Clerk, and she is the rising Regimental Sergeant Major for the 2024-25 academic year. She is a double major in Intelligence and Security Studies as well as English, with a minor in German. She plans to pursue national fellowships to continue her research on women’s education in Africa and attend graduate school at Oxford University.