AKILAH Institute

July 21, 2010

On the final day of the US Delegates’ stay in Rwanda, we were able to arrange a meeting with the forty four young women (and their teachers) of the inaugural class of the Akilah Institute!  What a privilege it was to visit with these dynamic individuals in a classroom on the beautiful campus in Kigali, where Akilah is housed while the school in Bugesera is being finished (GYC visited the new school grounds in Bugesera in Summer 2009 – see the program report for more info).

During the meeting, the students introduced themselves individually and told us about their school. They were passionate about their program at AKILAH, which provides high school graduates with key skills for success in Rwanda (hospitality skills and English, leadership/self-discovery in a foundational year followed by two years in a diploma program).

The students mentioned that some of them are already interning at local tourism establishments, such as the Manor Hotel in Nyarutarama.

We also learned that two of the students recently won the opportunity to go to the United States to speak with the donor networks for Akilah, and to encourage more fundraising for the building of the school and the granting of school fees or at least partial scholarships to all of Akilah’s young students, as they move from their foundational year to their diploma program.

Question Posed by Akilah student for Discussion in the Meeting: What is the root of conflict in the world?

Responses from GYC Youth included: Lack of Acceptance, Poverty, Ignorance

Responses from Akilah Student: Discrimination Against and Lack of Empowerment of Women

Question from GYC: What is the best hospitality experience you have had in Rwanda?

Response: I love Shokola, because they care so much about you from the time you enter the gate until the time you leave.

During the hour-long meeting, we were also able to tell the students about the GYC Learning and Action Community, and specifically about some of the main issues that we have been engaging on, such as the rights of historically marginalized groups/Potter communities,  LGBTI rights, detained youth and children.

Question from AKILAH Student: Can you tell us what kind of research you have done on LGBTI issues in Rwanda, especially since it is illegal here?

Technically it is not illegal to act upon one’s homosexuality in Rwanda (there was a law proposed last year to criminalize it, but it did not succeed in passing because local rwandan NGOs and others joined together to fight the bill), however, culturally it is still not acceptable so yes the organizations with which we are working on this issue are proceeding carefully so as to not offend people and to make as much progress as possible, while advancing the rights that are so necessary for both individual and public happiness and health.

It was heartening to see that the students were intrigued by the idea of the Learning and Action Community and look forward to applying to the next round of applications for the December/January LAC (and wanted to know more about what we look for in an applicant, so as to better prepare themselves for the essay writing). They also wanted to know how to get involved in volunteering for human rights organizations independent of the LAC, and we discussed how there are many ways to show interest in an organization and its mission and to get started in an internship/volunteering (go to a press conference or event, introduce yourself, go to the office to introduce yourself, check out their websites and try to email).

While we were enjoying our conversation with the students and their teachers, other Akilah staff, including Akilah co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Davis — who we are also proud to say is an alumnus of GYC Rwanda Summer 2006 — were busily working on their accreditation papers for the Rwandan Ministry of Education. According to what we saw during our short visit, they shouldn’t have any trouble gaining that accreditation! Good luck Akilah and we hope to see you again soon!

National Electoral Commission

With Reporting by Aloys Ntezimana

The meeting started at 10:45 in the conference room led by the Charles MUNYANEZA the executive Secretary of NEC.

The meeting started with  welcoming words of  Mr MUNYANEZA Charles, after introduction, Mr Munyaneza made a presentation about the role of youth in Rwanda as well as in NEC activities.  He explained how youth play an important role in building community because they are young and energetic with time to determine how their society should or could be governed.  Youth can shape a society.  This is very important because youth in Rwanda constitute nearly 60% of the population meaning that the youth’s dreams and activities can have a big impact on the rest of the population.

Mr Munyaneza then spoke more specifically about the upcoming Rwandan presidential election.  This is the second democratic presidential election ever in history of Rwanda, the first one was in 2003.  Previous elections used to allow one candidate running for presidential post but right now 4 candidates from 4 different parties have been accepted.

For Mr. Munyaneza, this election could heal Rwanda instead of being a source of conflict or troubles. The election must be a ground for democratic competition leading to what is best for Rwanda’s welfare.  The NEC is working specifically with youth to prepare for the election.  Youth have been trained to mobilize the population both psychologically and to educate the rest of population about election.  The NEC partners with the National Youth Council, youth associations and clubs, and then sends youth to disseminate the need of tolerance during political campaign as well as the acceptance the outcome of the election when pronounced.  Youth have also been instrumental in the registration of voters and mobilization for high voter turnout.  Nearly 5.2 Million of population have been registered among them 62% of the total are youth so this is a sign that youth have responded positively.  Youth are also volunteering during election in different domain such as keeping security and manning polling stations.

The NEC hopes that youth in Rwanda will be ambassadors in their home, schools and everywhere and they are convinced that they are doing so through their talents like songs, etc to spread the message of need of tolerance and the harmonious election. The NEC’s message is that the election must be a source of population welfare and not a source of troubles.


Questions from Participants 

Question 1: you said that youth are volunteering so how?

Answer: there are channels already set for example: here in Rwanda we have youth associations; clubs and groups to fight HIV/AIDS; for reconciliation and so forth, so we have similar clubs and associations.

Question 2: do you have a structure used for collecting money?

Answer: Most of time after announcing the outcome of the election if a candidate get at least 5% of the total votes, government reimburses some money to the candidate.

Question 4: How are youth recruited to assist with your activities?

Answer: we go the families; civil society; community, schools and so on and ask them to help us to choose youth of higher integrity.

Question 5: a) I would like to know whether voting is an obligation and also (b) I would like to know whether it is National Electoral Commission which will announce both provisional and final results of the election or if it is up the Supreme Court to announce the final result.

Answer:  (a) Voting is not an obligation, but we teach people their civil responsibilities and duties. 

As for (b) announcing result, this year it is up to the National Electoral Commission to announce both provisional and final results in order to facilitate candidate to complain via Supreme Court if one is not satisfied with the outcome. Because if the Supreme Court announces them, in case there is a candidate who wishes to complain, he or she could not get chance to do so.

Question 6: Is Secret Ballot used in all elections in Rwanda?

Answer: The method of secret bullet is used for presidential election and for some other elections but there is another method of lining up behind a candidate for local authority’s election.

Post Meeting Analysis from the LAC



Comment 1: The executive made excellent explanations and answered well all questions

Comment 2: I am glad the youth is being used to help with elections and educating people on the importance of voting

Comment 3: I learned very little from the visit to the National Electoral Commission, as everything which have been said by executive are well known by all Rwandans.

National Public Prosecution Authority

With Reporting from Aloys Ntezimana

It was the fifth day of LAC Workshop when we had a visit at National Public Prosecution Authority of Rwanda.

The speaker was Mr MUTANGANA Jean Bosco the head of special unit working under prosecution general aimed at capturing genocide perpetrators.

Mr MUTANGANA briefed the participants about the judiciary and prosecution system in Rwanda and afterward the participants asked questions.

Mr MUTANGANA expressed his gratitude and thanks to the visitors by welcoming Rwandan participants to come again, as well as welcoming participants from abroad to come to Rwanda particularly to General Prosecution Office for more learning.

Briefly this is a synopsis of MUTANGANA’s presentation:

The Rwandan Prosecutor General’s office is a head of other prosecution organs; it is made up of the Prosecutor General and the National prosecutors. It has financial and authoritative autonomy.

The office is made up of the Supreme Court, High Courts and Primary courts, and Intermediate courts in between all three levels and currently Rwanda has 100% qualified judges working in the organs.

The government is trying its best to replace the long history of impunity of justice and to mend the society which has been torn apart by the former regimes’ bad governance. Before 1994, the whole judiciary system had only around 14 qualified judges; in addition they were very corrupt. Other examples of impunity included the so called Amnesty law which protected the perpetrators of the 1959 massacres of Tutsi. This could be regarded as one infallible proof of nurturing the culture of impunity during the tenure of former regimes. Despite a lack of resources, as well as the above mentioned challenges brought about by former regimes, the Judiciary system is setting a good example to other judiciary systems in the region, and has been recognized internationally (most recently by the ICTR). The Government of Canada played a big role to building Rwandan Judiciary system.

Alternative systems of justice, such as the Gacaca Courts and TIG (travaux d’interet general, in English – Common Service Work), have also been established.  The government initiated Gacaca courts due the large number of accused during the genocide.  Those who confess voluntarily receive a TIG sentence.

The prosecution unit in charge of tracking down and trying genocide suspects is working cooperatively with different countries particularly United Nations member States and the unit is pleased that the European countries are responding very positively and also USA and Canada are doing so.

Given the opportunity to ask questions, we were interested to know:

Does Rwandan law provide any special protection to the historically marginalized “Batwa” or “Potter” group?

Mr. Mutangana responded that the Rwandan Constitution regards all citizens as Rwandans and provides everyone the same protection.  He indicated that it was history and the policies of former regimes that marginalized this group but that they have the same rights as any other Rwandan today.

We asked again about the “potter” community and explained that some people in the community had mentioned that they are being beaten by their neighbours and we asked the Prosecutor if he can tell us what the local potter people can do to report such crimes and have them addressed.

The prosecutor said that they need to address such concerns to the local authorities, namely the Executive Secretary of the Sector, and then follow-up.

If the discrimination against the potters is publicly declared as being based on their ethnicity, would that be an offence covered by the Genocide Ideology Law?

Mr. Mutangana explained that there is a 2001 law that prohibits segregation based on ethnicity and the law states that it is punishable to pronounce in public or show segregation ideology in public, but that that is not the specific focus of the Genocide Ideology law itself. Mr. Mutangana explained that Genocide Ideology is prohibited by Law 33 bis, Article 4, from 2003.  In 2009, a new stricter version of the law was enacted.  The Genocide Ideology law covered the situation of Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer who had been arrested in Rwanda. Mr. Mutangana explained while Erlinder was released on compassionate grounds, investigations are now on-going and that the case shows that it is a crime in Rwanda to use/publish certain kinds of speech on the internet as Mr. Erlinder had done, just as there are hate-speech issues in the USA.

 

Post Meeting ANALYSIS of THE GYC GROUP

Everyone appreciated the information the Prosecutor gave us on Rwanda’s justice system in the aftermath of the genocide, as well as his willingness to answer our questions.  We recognized that these are hard questions to ask and answer here in Rwanda.

Many people felt that the answers could be construed as being dismissive of the severity of the situation, especially related to the Potter Community, since we have seen such terrible conditions and heard/seen the stories of discrimination first-hand. But, knowing that it was a short meeting in which we could not share everything or understand everything, we also acknowledged that having discussed with the Prosecutor what we had seen, we can follow-up with him and keep the dialogue going on these issues. For example, we said that we would send him the link to the report from our last visit to the Mubuga community in January, when we heard from the Potter community that they do not like the term Potter and that they would prefer to be called Rwandan, not Batwa even, but only if they were receiving the same benefits as other Rwandans.

 

 

National Unity and Reconciliation Commission

On July 15th, LAC participants met with Mr. Richard Kananga of the National Unity and ReconciliationCommission. He described for us the role of youth in conflict management and the nationalreconciliation process. In 1994, Rwanda was a failed state and the transitional government had torespond to one million dead, 300,000 orphans, 500,000 widows and three million refugees. In 1999,the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission was established to combat all forms of discriminationand exclusion in the country. Knowing that peace in Rwanda had to be ‘home grown’ the NURC worksto include everyone in the process of reconciliation via community capacity building, the promotion ofdialogue and partnerships between civil society and public institutions, civic education , and conflictresolution training. The NURC conducts research, it educates and mobilizes citizens, it hosts debatesand it advises decision makers. In addition, it serves as a watchdog, reporting annually on the state ofRwanda’s unity and reconciliation.

Following his presentation, Mr. Kananga answered the group’s questions on a variety of issues:

Q: What are the identified roots of the genocide?
A: The NURC has reports available on this issue. The most important root was the history of badgovernance, other root causes are also colonization and poverty.

Q: What part does the NURC play in supporting marginalized communities like the Potters so as toadvance unity for the whole Rwandan population?
A: The NURC advocates for vulnerable people by documenting where they are, how they are living andbringing this information to the attention of all government levels.

Q: What countries inspired Rwanda’s unity and reconciliation strategies?
A: South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had an influence on gacaca laws – finding thetruth is a goal of gacaca, and for the sake of reconciliation, sentences were reduced for perpetrators whowere honest.

Q: What role does the NURC have in the on-going Iwawa Island Rehabilitation Program ?
A: This program is run by the Ministry of Youth, but NURC supports the program because it serves youthwho lived on the streets, were uncontrolled and who have not responded to many measures attemptedto assist them. The governments of Egypt and Libya also support the program and the public is invited tovisit the island and observe.

Q. What is NURC’s approach to division within the military?
A. Soldiers as well as the Ministry of Defence are partners of the NURC and the NURC works so that all Rwandans are sensitized for unity.

 

US Department of State

On July 14th, GYC participants had the opportunity to meet with the political officer at the US Embassy in Rwanda.  One of the political officer’s roles is to draft the annual Human Rights Report published by the US State Department. The political officer’s research includes meeting with government officials, local NGOs, international organizations, and members of civil society and fact-checking all information.  We discussed specific human rights issues that GYC was examining in Rwanda, including children’s rights. The political officer agreed with one participant’s observation that communities often play an active role in caring for vulnerable children. As for the Rwandan presidential elections in August, the US Embassy sent observers to some polling stations. The political officer explained that the Rwandan staff at the embassy serve as an invaluable bridge between our two cultures and societies, helping American diplomats to understand Rwanda and explaining the United States to their Rwandan compatriots.

LDGL

The participants were able to meet with Epimack Kwokwo who is the Regional HumanRights Coordinator for Ligue des Droits de la personne dans la region des Grands Lacs africains (LDGL).This is an organization that attempts to improve human rights situations in the Great Lakes Regionof Africa. It works in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has two mainprograms: observation and advocacy. Mr. Koko spoke to the group about the violations of human rightsthat are occurring in the region and that this organization attempts to fight. A current problem takingplace is elections. Burundi is in the election phase right now, while Rwanda is in the pre-election phase;the DRC has presidential elections within a year. He informed the group of the intolerance betweenpolitical parties and actors, as well as the general tension during elections. In Burundi this has led toparties refusing to participate because they don’t believe the elections are fair. He explained that oftenhuman rights defenders are thought of as opposition parties, and so suffer the same consequences asother opposition parties.

The group was able to ask questions, one being, “What are the factors of instability in the DRC?” Mr.Koko explained his view that the exploitation of minerals in the DRC, although a factor of instability, is aconsequence of armed groups, not a cause of those armed groups, and that there are mainly two optionsin disarming the groups: one is to integrate them in the Congolese army, and the second is integrationinto the political system.

 

Au revoir, Kibuye: Workshop Continuation

July 8, 2010

with contributions from Rwandan participants

It is a sunny morning with a fresh breeze all over the place. We are all wake up and we are preparing to leave the hotel we were staying. Everyone is busy and packing luggage.

7:30a.m.:some of the group are  leaving, the whole group has to go for breakfast at a restaurant  about 15 minutes from the hotel.

There, for almost 60 minutes, the group is taking breakfast and chatting a little bit around tables.

9:00 a.m.: the discussions about the topic of the day are starting; today discussions are about giving and debating on the definition of activism and advocacy, what we do understand by those words, the difference and the relationship between the two. Here are some proposed definitions of activism and advocacy:

  • activism is stronger than advocacy, but the two are similar
  • advocacy is mainly used to engage a government on an issue and activism is a commitment to a certain issue
  • activism is necessary and it includes advocacy as one of its tactics
  • advocacy is a point of who you are representing
  • In general, this was the synthesis of the debate: activism can be defined by personal commitment, a personal involvement into a certain issue and acting about it. And that advocacy is a support given to someone who is concerned by a certain issue, and commonly  used in political and legal issues, in government, or  by professionals.

Facilitator Jesse asked the group: who here calls himself/herself a Human Rights Activist, and about 7 hands were up.  Straight after that, some participants shared their experiences for both advocacy and activism, and there were testimonies. For example, Alice Muhoza of AJPRODHO, she’s doing advocacy while she is working, and then after work, she goes to see some prisoners and provide some advice to them. For Aloys Ntezimana, he is doing activism when he has to sensitize youth in primary and secondary schools about human rights; for advocacy, he uses conferences, etc.

After, we conducted one-on-one interviews about our inspirations to work for Human Rights, what we’d like to become in 5 years, how the L.A.C. is affecting our points of view of Human Rights and so on.

After discussing in groups, we have watched “INGABIRE” a Rwandan short movie that had been directed by Jesse in A freeze-framecollaboration with RAPP; the main topic in the short movie was about the discrimination of the HIV/AIDS positive people and how to fight against that kind of discrimination. The debate after lead to see how art could be a form of activism and what advantages might be included, and we formed groups to make theatrical freezes and exercises in which we make some kind of silent theatre to comment on the issues that face activists (guiding points such as ‘dont become overworked, you need to find time to enjoy yourself in life too!’

After the art sessions, we were given a briefing about the visit at the National Prosecutor Office and at the National Electoral Commission, to discuss about the questions to be raised the following day.

Kibuye Site Visits: Batwa Community, Detained Youth at Police Station

July 7, 2010

with contributions from international participants

Lake KivuAs a part of our Learning and Action Community we participated in a few field visits to important sites related to the organizations where the participants will be volunteering. Several of these visits were in  Kibuye(Karongi). A three hour bus ride away, beautiful Kibuye sits on Lake Kivu on the western side of Rwanda.  Sustained by great food from a local restaurant and our shared accommodations at our lakeside Hotel Eden Golf, we ventured to the various field visits related to the organizations.

COPORWA: visit to Mubuga Sector

The LAC team split into two groups, one to visit youth detainees and the other one, to visit a small village, populated by the historically marginalized group now called the “Potters”, or in pre-genocide terms, a group of Batwa, indigenous to Rwanda. We boarded our favorite, typical Rwandan buses, for a one-hour ride across hills, psst coffee plantations and through forests. Despite the multiple bumps and holes, and the heavy red dust, we enjoyed a breath-taking landscape, riding along Lake Kivu.

As our backs got painful, and our noses filled with sand, we stopped where the road became impracticable to vehicles. Banana leaf hut, Mubuga Potter VillageWe hiked through a hilly, dusty road and reached a forest camp rather than a village; most shelters were makeshift and gave little protection from the elements.  Here was say what poverty at the most extreme level in Rwanda was like.

This Potter community warmly welcomed us into their lives as we sat on the ground among the tall, deep green trees. Jesse introduced the delegation and its purpose. He also summed up what has been accomplished since the last time Global Youth Connect (GYC) visited the village in January. Most of the potters could not get health insurance cards even though the government’s role is to make sure all vulnerable people get those cards for free without any form of discrimination.

In the past six months, fortunately, some of the villagers managed to get their cards done thanks to advocacy to the local authorities by the Community of Potters of Rwanda (COPORWA), the organization we are working in cooperation with, but for those who could not, GYC ran a fundraiser and raised enough money to make up the difference so that everyone could get coverage immediately. Moreover, Jesse offered them a photo album full of pictures taken in January. Chantal, a woman of authority in the village, happily received the photo album, and thanked us.

LAC participant Vincent and two children from the Potter village

After, we listened to their grievances, and their everyday problems. They explained how hard it is for them to get their daily food, and to find and collect the clay they need since they are not granted any land from the government to cultivate. They also emphasized how rejected and ostracized they are from the entire community, and the violence they have to go through, mostly coming from their neighbors. They have back pains, no shoes, and clothes full of holes. Their t-shirts are so worn out and dirty that it is impossible to describe their original color. Because of these circumstances attending school is difficult.

One of their local representatives, the Government appointed Agronomist, then talked for a while and took questions, explaining how he tried to advocate for the village and have things done to help them get land and live stock, but without any major success since there are no other local authorities who are willing to advocate on their behalf. As we left, he promised to continue to come visit them every Tuesday, and to work harder on their behalf, including to organize a community meeting with the neighbors before the end of July, to talk about reducing the levels of discrimination-stigmatization and exclusion.

We promised to come back as an organization (GYC), and to try to make their lives better in the future through COPORWA and GYC combined efforts, in order to give them their legitimate rights as Rwandan citizens, and above all, a sense of dignity.  As we left Mubuga many of us felt daunted by the scope of these people’s problems, however a spontaneous song and dance from the villagers was beautiful and heartening for all.

Later in the program, Pam and Yves returned to be witness to the mediation session that the Agronomist had said he would host between the potters and their neighbors. They recorded the following observations about the session:

  • There were 3 men and 7 women present from the local community; and there were approximately 15 Potters; 2 Coporwa staff; 2 gyc volunteers; 1 local authority – the agronomist.
  • The meeting was held because the potters and their neighbors are not getting along. The potters are reporting abuse, such as violence, being smacked in public, and even some beatings are so serious that people are being sent to the hospital to beg for free treatment.
  • that it seemed to be leaving the potters out of the dialogue for the most part, which did not seem to be a very effective method of creating trust and acceptance. Casper, a member of the potter community did make one remark, however. See below.
  • there were mainly women present at the meeting, and that the main problems facing the potters (such as violence, smacking) come from the men in the neighbourhood … this was noted by Casper of the Potter community.
  • SIDE NOTE: The Health cards were announced as an example of the international show of solidarity for the potters. It is not clear if this has helped the situation/relationships between the Potters and the individuals in the community. This is something to pay attention to in the upcoming mediation sessions.

These small steps will hopefully afford this Potter community better living conditions soon. This is a group which has inspired many of us to try to do more.

AJPRODHO – visit to the Karongi Detention Centre

Those working with AJPRODHO went to speak with detainees and police officers at Bwishyura police station in Kibuye.  Part of what AJHPRODO, a youth organization engaged in Human Rights promotion and development, does is offer legal aid to detained youth who cannot afford it, and who are treated unfairly.

Upon our arrival at the police station we found a lot of women, along with their children detained at the police station.  What happens is that when women are arrested, a lot of the time they cannot leave their children behind because they are still breast feeding, or the children are just too young, and they cannot leave them with their husbands. While at the prisons, their families have to bring them food because food is not provided by the government at the police stations.

One of the women interviewed was arrested because she refused to obtain an I.D. card. She is a Jehovah’s Witness, and they cannot have I.D. cards because of the images on them. She had her 2 month old baby with her in the prison, and she left behind her husband and 4 kids. During the interview, she mentioned that the conditions in the prisons are not good, there are many women to a room and the population is increasing. There were many men and women with the same I.D. card issue. One of the people we interviewed suggested that we help them in making a suggestion to a government official that they provide them with special certificates to replace the I.D. cards.

We were shocked to see toddlers in the prisons along with their parents. The women in the prisons were merely following the doctrines of their religion, and did not intentionally commit a crime. A solution to the ID card problem needs to be found as it would bring families back together.  Here, women are the backbone of families and if you remove them from their homes for something as trivial as I.D. cards, you create a bigger problem for the nation as a whole.

After the interviews, the group met with the police chief. This meeting later secured the release of one of the detainees!

Nyange School

July 6, 2010

with contributions from international participants

Marie-Chantal's grave, Nyange School Memorial SiteAs with the last LAC, two days of the program were spent at the lakeside town of Kibuye.  On our way there we stopped at Nyange School. During GYC’s last visit to the school, participants only visited the genocide memorial on the grounds as the students were on a break for the Christmas holiday.  This time, the school was in session and we were lucky to have the opportunity to not only visit the memorial, but also to visit with and learn from the school’s Human Rights Club and its faculty.

This small boarding school resides on top of a hill and has amazing views of surrounding valleys and mountains. Despite the beautiful scenery, like much of Rwanda, the land has a tragic history.  In 1997 a refugee camp in what was then Zaire (DRC) was disbanded sending many genocide refugees and perpetrators back into the western part of Rwanda. Many genocidaires infiltrated communities and learned who had a Batutsi background.  It was these people that they subsequently targeted to kill in much the same way as had happened in 1994.  One night, a militia surrounded the school and entered one of the classrooms.  They demanded that the students separate themselves along ethnic lines, but the students refused, maintaining “we are all Rwandans.”  Frustrated, the militia indiscriminately launched an attack that killed six students.Receiving greetings from Nyange School staff

Today, the students at the school uphold the legacy of their bravery, by living the school’s motto – faire le bien, éviter le mal (do good, avoid wrongdoing).  A group of students shared a very emotional song they wrote for the school’s “standing heroes” and we were all inspired by strength and conviction of the youth we met.

It was with these heroes that we spoke, shared a surprise meal that they prepared for us, and drank fantas in order to gain perspective on their needs and foster a future relationship between Nyange, the Human Rights Club, and coming GYC delegations.

Niboye Peace Village

July 5, 2010

with contributions from International Participants

Vincent describing village activities to LAC participants

After visiting the Kigali Memorial Museum and having our Debriefing, we walked down the hill through the gargantuan homes of current-former diplomats in Kicukiru, to the much more modest Niboye Peace Village where a few of the delegates will be volunteering in the second part of the delegation in association with Uyisenga n’Manzi.

The village is home to orphans of the genocide and HIV/AIDs and there are various self sustaining and income generation projects in the village to keep the children  occupied and come to terms with their past, including bracelet making, yoga-gymnastics club, card making and wedding-dance performances.  During the visit we met with a group of children and learnt about the activities they do and the challenges they are facing for these projects. They mentioned that, mainly, they have a shortage of markets for their goods and services, and sometimes it is hard to find particular supplies, like the thread for the bracelets project.  There is also a shortage of funds for some other non-income generating projects at the village, including the Memory Book Photography project that uses photography to give the children an outlet for personal expression.

Visiting the village was inspiring for most people in the Learning and Action Community. We were able to see that there are means of help for the many orphans left in Rwanda and it definitely raised excitement and hope for those volunteering with Niboye.

Kigali Memorial Centre

July 5, 2010

with contributions from International Participants

The visit to the genocide memorial was an emotional and difficult experience for most of the LAC participants, both international and Rwandan. The tour began with us seeing the mass graves one of which remains open for the public to view, after which we went into the museum building which houses three exhibits. The main room carries a detailed display on the background leading up to the genocide, the atrocities carried out during the genocide, and then a section on the aftermath. There is also a section focused on children during the Rwandan genocide and the final section documents other instances of ‘violence against humanity’ in the international arena.  For many, the hardest part was the children’s exhibit; there was a series of pictures with details of each child such as name, hobby, favorite food and the last item on each list was the way they died.

After the visit we had a debriefing and discussion which raised a lot of interesting issues about the memorial itself as well as topics concerning reconciliation in Rwanda post-genocide. Most of the international participants of GYC appreciated the comprehensive nature of the exhibits and the detailed historical background it provided; however, this raised questions about how the genocide was addressed in Rwandan schools. The Rwandese participants were able to inform us that in secondary schools the genocide is taught in history classes, and in universities there are optional lectures and clubs focusing on reconciliation. However, we remained unsure on the depth of teaching in primary schools. The discussion brought to surface issues surrounding reconciliation; though the law prohibits discussion of ethnicity the underlying tension still exists according to many Rwandans in the group. One participant mentioned that many Tutsis feel that the government is almost forcing them to excuse the Hutu perpetrators, while many relatives of perpetrators remain silent because they feel ashamed of their past.  We discussed how these issues are represented in the Media in the West and that the way they are written about is usually sensational (such as this New York Times article about the National University of Butare students). While the NY Times article was talking about a legitimate subject, it did so in a sensationalistic way, saying that tensions ‘lurked’. The Rwandans in the room acknowledged that some families do not allow their children to marry people from the other groups, but we also know that some youth are persevering to get married to the person they love regardless of their group, even if it means having a wedding with only 25 people attending (normal weddings have upwards of 800 people in Rwanda).

We concluded the debriefing session by discussing what we could do to prevent future genocides and singing ‘Never Again,’ a song written by a group of East African artists to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

Liberation Day

July 4, 2010

With contributions from American Participants

On July 4th, several of the international delegates had the opportunity to attend the Liberation Day ceremonies in Amahoro Stadium, commemorating the day when the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the genocidal regime in 1994.

By the time the event started the stadium was packed with people sitting on the stairs and in the aisles. The several hour long event included singing, military parades, intentionally humorous martial arts demonstrations to show that the Rwandan military can defeat enemies even without guns, gymnastics, plays, honoring people who saved lives during the genocide, a speech by Kagame, and traditional dances from Rwanda and Egypt. It was a mixture between fun and serious, while never losing sight of the day’s purpose.

Most of the ceremony was not translated, so we didn’t always know what was going on. But it wasn’t necessary to know Kinyarwanda to feel the excitement of the crowd or to enjoy the demonstrations. The group favorite seemed to be the traditional dancing at the end, but we enjoyed the whole ceremony and were glad we attended. It was a wonderful way to see Rwandan culture and enjoy our 4th day in Rwanda.

Nevertheless, we International participants and staff had mixed thoughts about the day, but most of them focused on our presence and behaviour. Before the event had even begun, some of us entered into a social justice conversation regarding our right as non-Rwandans to attend, and also our right to enter the stadium in a special way. There was limited VIP space in the stadium and we took up several seats. Some of us felt that we had abused our privilege and connections to skip the long security lines to enter early and get seats in the shade. Many of us were uncomfortable with this behavior and wondered how it affected the event for the Rwandans in attendance. Others felt (a) that most Rwandans were sincerely happy that we were there including the policemen who were happy to honor the visitors with thanks and also the Minister of Culture (who was the event MC) who asked all visitors to stand to show how the world is supporting Rwanda, and (b) that there would have been examples of such preference being given to visitors in other parts of the world, such as the USA, since visitors get special privilege, often based on specific reasons (e.g. some visitors have health-environmental reasons for being treated differently — some people in our group did not have the ability to sit for 5 hours in the sun).

These issues, experiences and reactions to them are and will continue to be an important part of our time here in Rwanda – the country that has already been a most gracious host.

July LAC Day One

Greetings Lovely Readers!

Claudette giving Pam her first Rwandan dancing lesson

Preparation for Workshop Day 1 included belting out “Hello, Goodbye” by the beloved Beatles as we traveled to the venue in our extremely cozy van. We began the workshop with introductions by both groups. The theme of the introduction was to say hello to one another, hence the Beatles.  The Rwandan delegates performed an amazing song and dance which included everyone and showed off many American participants’ lack of dance skills.

Delegates paired off and answered a few simple questions to get to know one another.  Name was first, obviously and we delved into the interest in human rights.  Answers were awesome and diverse, one of which included the United States stance on human rights versus the Rwandan.

A small group session followed, to acquire the differing perspectives on the definition of human rights based on backgrounds and experiences.  We were divided into groups of all men, all women, mixed nationalities, Americans only, and Rwandans only.

Essentially, all of the workshop participants reached a consensus that human rights are inherent, inalienable, and indivisible, this includes protecting the right to meet basic needs, and preserve human values and human dignity.

We also discussed the best, most effective, most informed ways to take action on these issues and agreed that in this the work of local grassroots organizations is invaluable.  As such, the Learning and Action Community model includes working with and learning from local organizations.  Each organization we partner with has sent a representative to the workshop to contribute the organization’s perspective and expertise to our discussions.  It’s a very enriching thing to have a room full of youth activists, advocates and human rights practitioners.  The discussion was thoroughly inspiring.

Check out the Volunteer Organizations tab at the top of the page for an introduction to these inspiring organizations.

Related News Articles

Michael Fairbanks, The Huffington Post: Nothing Good Comes out of Africa

Nick Wadhams, Time Magazine: Is Rwanda’s Hero Becoming it’s Oppressor?

Rwanda: US Calls for Release of Opposition Leader’s Lawyer

Former Rwandan Army Chief Shot in South Africa

Kagame Accepts UN Appointment

Republican Congressman Troubled by  Obama’s Lack of “Voice” on Human Rights

Lee Middleton, Time Magazine: Can Ice Cream Help Pull Rwanda Out of Poverty?

Pentagon Bans Four Reporters from Guantanamo

Rwanda News Website Blocked after Paper Suspended

Landing in Kigali — July Participants

July 1, 2010 – Annie Abramson

I am so fortunate to be part of the July Rwanda delegation and cannot believe that after four months of application process and preparation, we are finally on the trip. The group had three phone conferences that included going over required reading, current events in Rwanda, and finding out a little more about our fellow staff and participants. This time period added to the anxiousness and excitement for the delegation to begin.

Getting to Rwanda was quite the experience. My personal story started in Denver, with a morning flight to Newark. Once arriving in Newark I was able to meet up with two other participants. It was a great sense of relief when we found each other in the busy terminal and made our initial introductions. We quickly boarded the plane for our seven hour journey to Brussels, Belgium. My cultural experience began immediately as I sat next to a woman from Uganda. With little English to communicate through, we exchanged quick background stories and I smiled often, as she was not a comfortable flier. After a confusing debarkation process in Belgium, we did a quick email check and boarded our nine hour flight to Rwanda.

Exhausted bodies and curious minds contradicted our desire for sleep. Again, we all had a sample of the unique culture we would soon be engaged in on our previous flight, and could only anticipate more. I learned close to landing that my seat mate had yet to be back in Rwanda for ten years. As he saw the lights growing closer, he expressed his amazement at how immensely the city had grown. His smile kept gleaming as he mentioned the thought of seeing his wife and child, as well as his parents back in his home town.

I knew through his joyous jump off the plane that Rwanda was a special place. All nerves were eased as we were united with two other group members as well as the luggage we had checked over 26 hour prior.