The Rwanda Peace Education Programme: From National Trauma to Art and Education

Yihyun Andrea Kwon | CONF 340 | GMU

When Adolf Hitler committed suicide in 1945 and Nazi Germany caved in upon itself to reveal the devastation of the Holocaust, the world said, “never again.” Then, the Cambodian Killing Fields occurred. The Rwandan genocide was revealed. More recently, thousands of the Rohingya tribe have fled from Myanmar in fear of further ethnic cleansing instigated by the government. Although more than 70 years have passed since the end of the major world wars, the international community has yet to find any real, proventive solutions to major humanitarian crises around the world. We are left to deal with the aftermath of violence to the best of our abilities.

All things considered, I believe that education is one of the most effective tools for turning trauma into reconciliation and remembrance, and more importantly, changing patterns of mass violence. One successful case of utilizing education as a means of peace can be found in Rwanda, where there are six major memorials that commemorate and honor some 800,000 who were killed during the civil violence of 1994. For this blog I will specifically focus on the Rwanda Peace Education Programme (RPEP) launched by the Kigali Genocide Memorial, in which there has been significant action built around mobile art and education programmes.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial opened in the early 2000’s and is the largest of the six genocide memorials. It serves as a center, gallery, exhibit, and houses the Genocide Archive of Rwanda that does collects data and identifies about the Genocide victims. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is also the resting ground for over 250,000 victims, both named and unnamed.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial has been extremely active with their educational programs and activities. In 2013 they launched a new ‘mobile extensions’ project with their Rwanda Peace Education Programme, in which they make external visits and set up programs in schools and communities. The major components to their Education Outreach program include: training teachers, opening school workshops, increasing community and school debates, initiating dialogue clubs, and closing with arts and drama workshops. These arts and drama workshops often include a public performance, incorporating art and story-telling and bringing to life the ideals of the program.

According to the program video available on the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the program aims to work closely with students and teachers in order to help develop critical thinking that is not always taught in schools and create an understanding of how people may act differently in times of ethnic crisis. The driving force behind these programs is to use these mobile exhibitions to tell the story of the genocide, it’s effect on Rwanda, and the forces of reconciliation that have re-built communities. REPEP is currently working with 20 communities around Rwanda to facilitate the programs, though similar programs are also being conducted the Genocide Archive of Rwanda and classrooms set aside in the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The interactive, art-infused, story telling programme of the RPEP

One other example of how the program incorporates art and storytelling into their programs is the case of their collaboration with ‘Radio La Benevolenija,’ where they worked to infuse the program lessons into the storylines of a popular soap opera that has nation-wide popularity, helping to bring transformation to the mindset of the masses.

Two major stakeholders in this program is the Rwandan government, as well as local nonprofits. According to the International Society for Education through Art, art has yet to be formally included in the Rwandan curriculum. When I inquired about this to my good friend from Rwanda, she clarified that art education is not yet a part of the A and O levels for secondary education. However, there are several rising nonprofits working with students to use art as a tool of reconciliation and vocational training. The government is beginning to realize the increasing demand for such education and is attempting to create more after-school vocational opportunities. There is a growing need for a foundational understanding built on creativity that will lead to a new economy of art for Rwandan youth. This is already happening, with major art centres growing in Kilgali and several other regions, as well as the now infamous annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival held in the K. This is why the RPEP is important, and will continue to grow in importance, to the growing discourse around art and education in the country. The RPEP could be used as a model for creating a sustainable art program, being the largest ‘after school’ program being employed by a non-governmental entity.

Less than three decades have passed since the happenings of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. Memories are still fresh amongst the living, as even the guides of the Kigali Genocide Memorial are survivors and victims. The remnants of the dead left in the memorial are familiar to many of the living who visit.

Art has proven to be quintessential to the process of remembrance, healing, and reconciliation. It’s a way to express the mourning of entire civilizations and restoring humanity to communities. We’ve seen it time and time again; Pablo Picasso’s 1937 oil painting Guernica depicting a bombing during the Spanish Civil War, John Lennon’s universal anthem of peace Imagine, South Korea’s Statue of Peace, Sonyeosang.

In a country still re-living the violent past that occurred only two decades ago, there is past that must be reconciled and a future that must be reshaped. For the younger generations who may not have directly experienced the genocide but are still in danger of succumbing to the same cycle of ethnic divide, it’s imperative that they are given the proper educational tools to gain understanding and empathy.

A past that must be reconciled and future that must be reshaped: The Kigali Genocide Memorial Head, a survivor of the genocide.

Consequently, art is going to continue to gain momentum as a powerful tool of education, both in Rwanda and around the world where conflict and differences divide entire societies. What the Rwanda Peace Education Programme is accomplishing with the youth in local communities all around the nation may very well be what propels into the new future.

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