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Young people in Rwanda learn from a peace-building course

The genocide in Rwanda took place nearly two decades ago, but it’s still vital that the country’s young people understand what happened.

Nearly two-thirds of Rwanda’s population are under the age of 24 and their understanding of what took place in 1994 is shaped by what their families and elders tell them. Now, some educationalists are noticing worrying signs that young people are acquiring the kind of ethnic prejudices and attitudes from their elders which helped fuel the atrocities of the past. Rather shockingly, one education officer was given a note thrown into a school playground which said “Do not be mistaken, you have survived, the work is not yet finished.”

The Rwandan government has done much to promote reconciliation, but more still needs to be done. Not-for-profit organisations, such as the UK-based Aegis Trust, are therefore working hard to combat ethnic prejudice by educating young people. The organisation sponsors courses for secondary schools called ‘Learning from the past: building the future’. So far, around 11,000 students have attended this course and whenever possible, are taken on a trip to the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali. Youngsters from SOS Children’s Villages can be seen visiting this centre in the Genocide feature on the Our Africa page of Rwanda.

Speaking to the Guardian, one of the education officers running the courses spoke about the importance of young people seeing where ethnic hatred or intolerance can lead. He admitted that “there are no open fights in schools” over ethnicity. However, there was sometimes ill-feeling among children based on things their parents might have told them. This could be manifested in “whispering...writing on the walls and anonymous letters”. The programme is designed to show the dangers and build trust between the offspring of survivors and perpetrators of the violence.

One of the secondary school pupils who attended the course volunteered that he had seen children bullied who were supported by FARG, the government programme set up to assist those affected by the genocide. Another student admitted that he didn’t know what took place during the genocide and the course had given him answers to a lot of his questions. Independent research on the programme has shown that it has “a dramatic positive impact” on the attitudes and behaviour of those who take part.

But with over 2 million Rwandans aged 15-24 today, there are many more youngsters to reach. The Aegis Trust has therefore created a travelling exhibition called ‘Peacemaking after genocide’. They hope that this will bring the message of peace and reconciliation to a much wider audience.
Laurinda Luffman signature