“Youth are a national treasure,” says Dydine Umunyana Shami, one of the volunteer directors affiliated with A Peace of Life in Rwanda. She took this photo on a visit to western province over the holidays. We agree and are very happy to feature it today as our Friday fun photo.
School’s out…and many youth in Rwanda are now home for the holidays. But large numbers of youth continue to miss out on the opportunity to complete secondary education or even vocational skills training – it remains too big a financial burden for many families. At our last peace camp, several youth shared the burden of lacking fees and were in tears at the thought of not returning to school in the new term. Poverty is one of the big challenges that youth face and that causes conflict and hardship. Some resort to desperate measures to stay in school or to earn a living. Some become vulnerable to abuse by those in positions of authority. These are just some of the issues we discuss at peace camp and incorporate into dramas, songs and dances as part of peace-building. At our upcoming camp, to be held the last week of November, teams of youth will be working on scripts, do a pitch to a team of “celebrity” judges, with the winning script and/or script characters to form the basis of a new radio drama to be written and produced by youth. We will also be learning more about social enterprise with youth pitching their best ideas to start a small, youth-led business. Stay tuned for more exciting news as plans progress. We’re looking forward to another great camp! Learn more about peace camp
About today’s photographer: Dydine is dedicated to peace-building and to developing the potential of youth in her country, and Africa in general. She recently attended an international conference on forgiveness, “Healing the Wounds of History”, in Kigali. She has also just launched a non-profit organization, Umbrella Cinema Promoters, to “bring the light to Africa through cinema”, and empower more young African women to become invovled in filmmaking. We look forward to featuring her very first short film on AIDS at the next peace camp, and having her as one of our trainers and peer mentors. Dydine will help youth work on script-writing and share some of her personal experience as a young entrepreneur. More news shortly on other special guests to attend peace camp, including some possible young talent from Canada!
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Pictured: Hope lights the way. Club Unity (a peace club started by youth in Rwanda) ends a day of community service, repairing homes of Genocide orphans and widows, with a time of testimony, prayers, songs and a commitment to peace, as part of their 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi where an estimated 1 million people were killed in a 100-day period (April – July, 1994).
Club Unity was started by youth who attended the first peace camp (Nov. 2010) offered by A Peace of Life in partnership with AEBR Youth. Today anywhere from 100-200 youth meet on Saturdays at the small, local Baptist church in Mubago and they have started a variety of peace-building activities including microcredit. As part of the 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, they planned a special day of community service and testimony.
Anthony, one of the Club Unity founders, forwards this account of their commemoration day, held Sat, Apr. 28, from 6 am to 10 pm:
Today, very early in the morning, we went – almost 37 people, most of us youth – to the hill located in our village to dig and transport sand to use to repair houses of Genocide orphans and widows.
After noon, at 14:00, we met in the garden at Mubago Church with many people to have dialogue about our Rwanda history. After this time of sharing, 4 widows of Genocide received the gift of one goat each from our Club. We did this action as a sign to show that we have taken up the challenge to change from our country’s bad history to a new future. We want to treat each person as created in the image of God. Commemoration During the 100 days of Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, our Club Unity will collect money to buy three more goats to help three more widows (for a total of 7 to be helped). We will also have a voluntary day of work each month during this time to keep helping the Genocide survivors. We do all these things because we want to look to the future – to go ahead without stopping – to heal the grief of our relatives.
See more photos from Club Unity’s day of commemoration and community service.
Trauma continues to be big issue faced by youth, and people of all ages, in Rwanda. A Peace of Life has arranged to have Anthony continue to receive training in peer-to-peer trauma counselling (graciously offered by Paulette Baraka, one of our volunteer professionals who conducted a trauma and mental health workshop at last year’s peace camp). See more photos.
We are so inspired by the courage and commitment of youth like Anthony and his Club Unity members. We hope you are too! Fundraising is now underway to help more youth like Anthony have an opportunity to attend Peace Camp (the next one is scheduled for the last week in November 2012). Please help us today.
Little things make a world of difference!
I love this photo of a child cleaning the path in front of his house. It was taken by Anthony, one of the youth in our programs. It reminds me of the importance of caring about the little things – and little ones – that often go unnoticed. Ironically, it’s the little things in life that can make the biggest difference, good or bad, over time. What we say and do makes an impact on others. Through our projects, we strive to encourage youth to be a positive influence in their world. To understand that a big part of developing their own potential is in how they treat and care for others along the way.
Anthony is such an example. After the first camp (in 2010), he went on to start a peace club back in his village - Club Unity. On any given Saturday, anywhere from 100 -200 of the club members meet at a local church. Most have grown up in child/youth-headed households. They have become known in the community – even asked to help resolve difficult issues, such as a recent land dispute.
This past November at our second annual peace camp, Anthony and several other youth gave presentations on the peace clubs they have started. They shared their plans and progess as well as the challenges they continue to face. Top of the list was the need for more training and opportunities like the peace camp where they can meet, share and learn from each other. We have started planning for peace camp 2012!
After peace camp, Johnny Lam (a documentary photographer and partner of A Peace of Life) and I were thrilled to spend a week with Anthony and his family and the gafotozi back in the village where we held our first photography workshop. While we were there, we also had the chance to meet with the new peace club, Club Unity and hear of their plans which include expanding the savings and loan group they have started.
Anthony and his sister, Princess, were among the first group of young photographers to be trained by Johnny – who has since launched Gafotozi (which means young or small photographer in Kinyarwanda) to promote peace and youth empowerment through photography. The Gafotozi continue to be mentored by one of our amazing local volunteers, Timotee, a young teacher who assisted in the photography workshop at peace camp as well as led a session on entrepreneurship. We look forward to posting more of the work of the Gafotozi throughout the year!
Sneak peak: A photo by Johnny Lam of the Gafotozi at work on their peace camp project – a multimedia presentation. Stay tuned for our premiere of this piece during World Water Day!
In addition to photography, other workshops at peace camp included drama, film, sports for peace, community development and trauma/mental health. See more peace camp photos.
But the most powerful workshop at camp was the trauma/mental health session facilitated by Paulette Baraka.
“I thought I was the only one who had such big problems,” later shared Olivier, one of the youth. “At peace camp I was amazed to hear that others had the same problems in their life. It was really such a big help for me, you can’t believe how much. It changed me so much.”
Olivier is an example. Like his friend Anthony, he has had to cope with the impact of AIDS on his family. He dropped out of school to work and help support his mother, a widow who is HIV positive. He recently started his own small business and is one of leaders of Club Unity. He is also one of the youth trained as a Gafotozi. His first photo essay was on the impact of AIDS in the family.
Pictured: Impromptu computer class in the home of our hosts (Anthony and Princess, top right)
The gafotozi loved learning some computer and social media skills - thanks to Johnny’s training, wonderful donations of laptops and cameras, and the recent arrival of electricity in the village! We simply loved being with them and learning more about their daily life. We can’t say enough about their impact on us. They opened up their homes, and their lives. From early morning walks for water, to afternoons scrubbing the red mud off shoes, to hanging out late at night talking, we now have a deeper understanding and love for each other.
It really is a privilege to work among these youth. They inspire us. We’re proud of all that they have already accomplished. Their energy and hope is contagious as they persevere in the midst of big challenges. We hope they inspire you too.
We are now working with Paulette to develop and provide a workshop on trauma & counselling for youth. We hope to offer it to Anthony, Olivier and Club Unity in March, in the weeks leading up to the National Commemoration of the Tutsi Genocide, a time when much trauma and painful memories resurface.
We are also planning for the next peace camp to be held later this year and continuing to help fund and promote some of the events and media in the works by our local partners and youth peace catalysts.
Please make a donation today and help to support us in all of the little things we attempt to do this year among all these courageous youth in Rwanda. Together, we are making an impact!
Posted by Laurena Zondo, founder, A Peace of Life
A Friday Fun Foto…..girls in focus
We post this photo today in honour of the three women (two of whom are from Africa) who were awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Congratulations, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Leymah Gbowee (Liberia) and Tawakul Karman (Yemen)! It’s a great acknowledgement of the crucial role of women in peace-building and community development. Through your work, you’ve highlighted the need to address issues of poverty and gender inequality as part of the peace process.
Pictured (left to right): Prencesse, Claudine, Germaine – three inspiring young women who are peacebuilders in Rwanda, and members of our gafotozi, learning to use the arts and media for social change.
Photo taken by Johnny Lam, documentary photojournalist, as part of our first photography workshop. Next month, he and the gafotozi will be at peace camp and also back in the village, working on more photo essays. We look forward to posting their new creative!
Land is at the root of most of the conflict in our world - not only disputes in who has the land or who wants control of the land, but also environmental and connected social justice issues, such as how we care for, and share in, the earth and all its resources.
We post this photo today in tribute of Wangari Maathai, an inspiring Kenyan woman who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work on the environment, women’s rights and transparent government. She passed away yesterday, on September 25th, but leaves behind a remarkable legacy including the founding of the Green Belt Movement which has planted an estimated 20-30 million trees in Africa.
The photo was taken by Germaine, an inspiring young girl in Rwanda who shares Wangari’s love and concern for peace and a healthy environment. Germaine loves to garden and hopes to become a doctor. She took this photo as part of her essay on “our relationship with the environment.” Her essay was one of a series of village photo essays by the gafotozi – youth who participated in our first photography workshop in 2009. They live in a region where large numbers of children have been orphaned by the Tutsi Genocide as well as AIDS. Many of these children became heads of their household and today they continue to struggle not only with poverty but also family land and property ownership issues.
Land issues will be some of the case studies to be explored by youth in our upcoming peace camp, to be held Nov. 20-26, in Gisenyi, a border town (Rwanda and DR Congo). Youth will put into practice some of their critical thinking and creativity skills to develop innovative and engaging ways to open dialogue and build common ground on crucial issues within the community, for peace and development.
Youth will also plant trees near our host school and mini gardens (vegetables-in-a-sack) for orphans as a meaningful expression of love and care for the environment and those most in need in the community.
Thanks, once again, to all who have contributed time, money and support to this youth peace media initiative. Please keep checking this blog to see your wonderful support in action!
p.s. The gafotozi will have the opportunity to train, once again, with Johnny Lam, a volunteer documentary photographer from Canada who led the first photography workshop. In the coming months, we look forward to posting some of their new photos and having an on-line gallery for purchase.
Famine doesn’t happen overnight. And you really don’t have to look very hard to see it coming. The writing has been on the wall….on the table….signs everywhere, that something is wrong and getting worse. For some families in East Africa, it’s been coming a long, long while now, with a series of droughts, wars, conflicts and all sorts of injustices adding insult to injury.
The slide from one meal a day to no food a day happens more often than we’d like to think in our world. Tragically though, it’s not until the terminal phase, when we see the skeleton bodies - children on the verge of starving to death or already succumbed – that the story seems to finally get out, capture our attention, however briefly. And once the story is out there…what is our response going to be? How long before we change the channel?
Cry me food….cry me justice.
I was appalled reading some recent comments posted to articles and stories that did manage to meander their way into the news and onto the blogs. Many of us seem content to simply rationalize the problem and the response away…..”they should be taking care of their own people”….”we don’t want to help the terrorists”….”the money will just get wasted”….”there’s too much corruption”….”I can’t make much of a difference”….”it’s not my problem”….
Really? But what if that was your child starving to death in your arms? My child buried on the run? I think we would be a lot less lethargic, less apathatic, less judgemental about the how’s and why’s of the crisis, and simply beg for a response. Any response. Now, please!
Lots can be done. Lots is being done. Lots more needs to be done, both now and long term with community development and leadership development. The training and empowerment of youth who will lead differently, live differently, share resources, work for peace, intervene, respond, will make a big difference. You can support them.
At our next peace camp, coming up in November, we are focussing on the issue of food security and entrepreneurship (including skills development in a small business) as a crucial part of peace-building. We hope to have a special guest share some of his experience from Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, which has recently been overwhelmed with families fleeing from the famine in their homeland. Stay tuned for more news.
Please keep the families impacted by famine in your prayers and make a donation today to an organization involved in the relief.
About today’s photo: Anthony, one of our gafotozi, took this photo as part of his photo essay on village life. He was also one of the young photographers to help document our first peace camp. One of the outcomes of the peace camp was the formation of several peace clubs across the country. Anthony helped to start a club in his village in Kibungo region. Another club, Solace Sowers for Peace, began in Kacyiru (Kigali). On Sunday, July 24, they will be holding their second peace concert and raising funds for famine relief. Learn more.
Phanuel Sindayiheba is a survivor – and a national hero. He will never forget what happened, the scars remain etched on his body and in his mind. It was March 18, 1997, three years after the genocide. He was studying at secondary school in Nyange, a region riddled at that time with unrest as rebels waged their battle against the new government. Buses were stopped and burned. People intimidated. And then one day, an attack on students.
Last November, Phanuel joined us at peace camp for a memory walk to his former school where the attack took place. He shared some of his story. Here are some excerpts.
The shock is still there, flashbacks, when I go back to that event. In 1995, after the genocide there were bodies everywhere, you could see people’s wounds and trauma, many of the perpetrators were still living in the rural areas and not yet in jail. In 1996-97, the rebels were still fighting against the new government and in this area you could hear the bullets and bombs.
At school, we were from different backgrounds — children from Hutu families, where in those years many felt that a Hutu was equal to a genocide perpetrator so children from those families were ashamed of being Hutu; children from Tutsi families who were traumatized; and children who were from Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, who had never lived in Rwanda and grew up in refugee camps with stories about a bad Hutu who kicked them out of Rwanda. So you take all these children from different backgrounds and put them in one school, let them eat together, fetch water together, sleep in the same dorm, sit on same bench. At first, we stayed within our small groups – Burundi with Burundi, genocide survivor with genocide survivor, those with fathers in jail. But after three years, we had become one.
On March 18, 1997, it was around 8 pm, the main gates were locked, we had finished dinner and some of us were back in our classrooms reviewing our notes. I was in Class 6. We started to hear gunshots, but thought it was nothing big, that it was just rebels fighting soldiers. But after 15 minutes, the noise kept increasing instead of reducing, and we wondered what was going on. Then we saw fires outside and bullets started to hit the windows. I told everyone to lie down on the floor so bullets wouldn’t hit us. The bullets kept increasing and all the windows were broken. After a few minutes, it stopped and then three young men with machine guns burst in. They tried to disguise who they were, wearing both military and civilian clothes, and hid their face and eyes. “Do you know me?” asked one of them in a crazy, crazy kind of French accent. He looked like the leader.
One of us said, “We don’t know you.”
Then he said, “You will see me, but before you see me, I want you to help me, to facilitate me with my job. Hutus on the right side, and I know here we have Tutsis, so Tutsis go to the left side.”
We all heard him clearly and we knew what he wanted. Everybody kept quiet. So he repeated his command a second time.
“We do not have Hutus or Tutsis here, we are Rwandans,” said one girl, Chantal.
Thinking that she was confused, they went outside and threw two grenades inside, into a small room like that. Some students were blinded, others had their legs cut off, others were crying.
The first grenade actually created a big hole in the floor. The second grenade fell on my back.
They wanted to intimidate us, to show us that the situation is serious, that the one who was Hutu or Tutsi should decide immediately whether to separate. Then they came back inside the room and gave the same order. “Hutus aside, Tutsis aside.”
There was a young man who always sat in front of me. He had survived the genocide, just he alone with his brother, while the rest of the family was destroyed. We used to call him the philosopher, and he said to the rebels, “We have already told you, we are not Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandans.”
So they shot both him and Chantal immediately, in that same moment. When he replied that way, even after they had thrown in grenades, they realized that nothing would change our minds and they started shooting us, row after row. One of the rebels guarded the door so no one could escape.
I was in the third row. A grenade is the worst thing, if you see how they prepare brochettes, my back was like that, and I had this thought to just raise my head from under the desk so they shoot me and I die. But then I had another thought. Something else inside my mind that said that this would be suicide, please, don’t stick your head up. Five bullets hit my arm.
Some details from this night I’m not going to say here, but when they shot us, a girl asked me to pray because we are going to die. We prayed and I asked them to remember the word we read in Hebrews 12:14, to be at peace with everybody.
Another group of rebels went to Class 5. When they got the same answer as the one we gave, the answer was given by Helen, a girl whose dad was in jail suspected of genocide crimes, they got mad immediately. As one of the rebels grabbed her she said, “Are you going to kill me, and yet I know you.” Realizing that she could identify him, he shot her. Another student, Valence, who had actually lived with soldiers as a child solider, but was back at school, tried to stand up and take the rebel from the back, to save Seraphine, another girl who the rebels recognized. They killed him, too.
Students in the other classes ran and hid down in the bush. So the night passed like that. Six students died, many others were badly injured. Once soldiers in the area realized that rebels had attacked our school, they came to help us. All night they and other students and people from the community took care of us. In the morning we were loaded into local taxis and taken to hospitals. Because of the extent of my injuries, I was in hospital after hospital, for a whole year. Some students returned to school after two weeks, but others were too traumatized to come back. Later on the Government recognized what we did and made us national heroes.
Many of my classmates still suffer today from their wounds, crippled in their body or psychologically wounded. In 2002, we started an association called KOMEZUBUTWARI, Continue Being a Hero. We’re trying to do our best to promote peace and to help youth become the peace makers. We also do advocacy for those who are blind or crippled, but would like to continue to study.
Here are just some of the questions youth had the opportunity to ask.
Youth #1: You told us about being in different groups, from different backgrounds. How did you manage not to separate yourselves?
Phanuel: There are three things that helped us to become one. The first one is the personal values you should have, but also important is leadership. We had an old guy who was in charge of religion, a chaplain, and his slogan was, “Do the good things so that evil may be destroyed” and there were some teachers and parents who were good examples, encouraging us to love each other and help one another. The second is the power of the word of God. I was one of the leaders of a worship group where Catholic, Protestant and whoever else wished, would gather together, and we kept stressing peace, love, unity. We became strongly united. After three years, nobody wrote a bad message in toilets. In the very beginning, you could see these things, but not after three years. The third thing is the government policy of unity and reconciliation, to live at peace with everybody. We were motivated by the way they looked at things.
Youth #2: I want to really understand that power that animated you. The genocide was just a few years back so the wounds were still fresh and there was that bad spirit, tell us, practically, we want to know, practically, how you managed to have that courage?
Phanuel: Besides the things I just said, I am a Christian and there is my family education. In my family, we didn’t have problems between Hutu and Tutsi, and during the genocide I saw people helping each other so I could not personally tolerate somebody killing a neighbour. So the reason I didn’t stand up, it’s my education from my family, the experience I’d seen in the genocide and the word of God that was in me. I was a youth leader, and if I preached that people should live in peace, I could not stand up. In Class 5, Helen was also reading in the Bible that night to students, from Romans 8, where it talks about what can separate us from the love of Christ. Is it death? Is it persecution? Is it hunger? Nothing can separate us from God’s love. We were deeply grounded in the word and that‘s what helped us a lot. Nothing could separate us because in the last three years we had been training ourselves to love each other.
Youth #3: I’m wondering if those rebels, when they were later integrated, brought back into the army, does the government trust them 100%?
Phanuel: Let’s focus on a typical experience we can relate to, like somebody living in the rural area. Somebody who just repented about what he did in the genocide, what do you think, do you trust him? Many dilemmas come in, somebody might repent and totally change, because the Bible says that someone in Christ is a new creature, and the past is gone and everything is new, so somebody can change, but there are some people who can repent only for their own interests. It’s only God who knows the hearts.
Youth #4: The rebels came here and killed people and today they are in the army. Then the rebel is promoted, has a big rank, and I (a soldier) am not promoted. I may do crazy things like take revenge. What do you think?
Phanuel: I’m a civilian, so I’ll answer you as a civilian. Think about somebody who killed five, six people, he took responsibility for his actions, served some time in jail, and now he’s back, he has cars and a good house and more than anybody else, and there is a genocide survivor living in a small house of 25 iron sheets. Do you think these people can keep living together? That’s why we are here in this peace camp. I read the logo you made, youth catalysts for peace. You know in chemistry what a catalyst is – something that improves, accelerates, the reaction, the chemical. So seriously it is hard for them to cohabitate, but that’s why you are here. You are catalysts. You have to accelerate people, bring them together, help people who could not otherwise live together be able to live together. That’s why we have these initiatives like peace camps, for people like you who say I need to take a stand, a step, to do something. We are investing in you, sowing seeds, so that you may go and help our society. It’s a big, big challenge, but you have to do it and we are here to help you make a better future.
We were all powerfully moved and inspired by our day with Phanuel. Youth shared some of their thoughts:
“Heroism is real, and in this peace camp we saw a living hero; it is a sacrifice to be a peace maker and each one of us should strive to be a hero; the hero making process has started already in this peace camp.”
“The walk helped me to realize that together we can do an act of heroism, but separate is more difficult, we must work together.”
“I learned that living together for peace and even accepting to die for peace.“
Since the peace camp, several youth have already started their own peace clubs at school and in the community. They have become real catalysts for peace.
As for Phanuel, he continues to work for holistic development through community development programs, healing and reconciliation programs. He hopes to continue his studies in 2012 and improve his skills by taking a Master’s degree in Organizational Development and Leadership, if he’s “lucky to have a scholarship.”
Last week marked 14 years since the school attack. ”For this particular period, it is somehow difficult because it brings back the sad memory and horrible events we have experienced that night (March 18th 1997),” reflects Phanuel. “I’m convinced that I survived for a purpose, to serve my community, help the young generation to prepare a future better than their present situation and different from the one of our ancestors.”
During this period, Phanuel helps organize special events like a commemorative event at Nyange School and conducts seminars and transformative teachings for youth. “It is also a good time for me to visit some orphans and children who are heading households, to help them cope with their situation.”
See more photos from peace camp and our memory walk.
Friday Fun Foto: Hello, BBA – welcome to the world! We’re pleased to announce the launch this Saturday, Mar. 12, of Basic Brilliant Africa (BBA) the very first student peace club at INATEK University, Kibungo, in eastern region of Rwanda. There’s going to be lots of singing and dancing!
If you’re in the area, don’t miss all the fun. Guest artists to perform include nationally known musicians as well as new artists from the grassroots, a new film, Maibobo (highlighting issue of street kids) by Almond Tree Films Rwanda and the gafotozi exhibit.
A peace of life is proud to be one of the participants and sponsors of this event.
Our Friday Fun Foto today: Creative use of water in a drought-prone region. It’s a fun photo but a serious issue, many denied access to safe, clean water in our world. Learn more at World Water Day.
Photo taken by Germaine, one of the gafotozi, as part of developing her photo essay on the environment.
Together with the other gafotozis, Germaine attended peace camp as our “official photographers”. See more photos.
We’re now fundraising for peace camp 2. Please help us today!
Uncle (Tonto in kinyarwanda) gives his advice to questions of love, conflict, and everything in between, in a new youth peace newspaper launching in March. It’s just one of the exciting things to burst out of peace camp and the partnership of a peace of life and AEBR Youth to empower and equip youth to be leaders in peace and development. See more about peace camp.
Special thanks (and a very BIG SHOUT OUT) to the talented illustrator, Colanthony, for volunteering his amazing skills. He’s one of the featured young talent in a new book, Toronto Graffiti. Love to have you at our next peace camp!
Happy Valentine’s Day! A little brotherly love, from Rwanda.
Today is a great day to celebrate the power of love and the power of human dignity. Both are crucial in the fight against racism, AIDS, corruption, greed, jealousy – against anything that causes suffering and conflict in our world. We pass along one of our favourite passages used in our personal reflection time at peace camp, last November:
Evil is only overcome in one way – by the power of sacrificial goodness. Evil is not overcome by more evil. Evil begets evil. Violence more violence. Hatred more hatred. Only sacrificial goodness stops evil in its tracks…we overcome evil by speaking the truth, by blessing the enemy, enduring the suffering instead of inflicting the suffering…goodness that is willing to go all way way…sacrificial love. – Discipleship on the Edge
This past weekend, from Egypt to South Africa, there was a celebration of freedom, but also a reminder of the personal cost. We commemorate those who died in the protests in Egypt at the same time as remembering the anniversary of the release of Mandela after a lifetime spent in prison. His story encourages us to persevere, to pursue peace and justice not through violence and retaliation, but rather through love and mercy. It’s a difficult, but beautiful path – and really the only way to truly forgive, reconcile, and live as brothers and sisters in our world.
Next month our blog will feature the remarkable story of heroes in Rwanda. Pictured above: Phanuel visiting the tomb of one of his classmates, Chantal, who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace. Photo taken by our gafotozi.
So, this Valentine’s Day, we send love to all youth working for peace. You are the true heroes today. We love you. Keep up the good fight!
Join us! Instead of chocolates or flowers, how about giving seeds? Help plant more peace and love in Rwanda. Donate today for our next youth peace camp, November 2011.
p.s. “brotherly love” photo taken at a youth World AIDS Day event in Kigali sponsored by a peace of life…umutuzo mu buzima.
I have a dream…
Continuing on in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., youth at peace camp dedicated themselves to the nonviolent pursuit of peace and justice. Pictured: Gerard, one of the 48 youth peace camp participants, delivers his dream, a poem about sustainable peace, as part of our World AIDS Day youth event, held shortly after the camp.
“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood,” noted Martin Luther King Jr. some 48 years ago in his now infamous speech, I Have a Dream. His words set a revolution in motion, from America to around the world, a nonviolent war against racism, and any other injustice that destroys dignity, that divides and exploits.
The dream – and the fight – for peace, love and unity continues. Youth at peace camp reflected on the sayings and legacy of King and other heroes like Ghandi and Mandela, all of whom advocated the use of nonviolence to restore broken communities.
Some youth even created their own response. Watch Gerard’s performance and others.
At camp, youth shared some of the conflicts and injustice that they face today:
“I love a boy but we are from two different ethnic groups. I’m wondering how I can proceed to make my parents understand that I love him.”
“I live with my sister and brother-in-law. My sister died and now he wants to always sleep with me. I cannot leave him before I finish my studies because he is the one who pays my school fees. So how can I live with him without conflict and without sleeping with him?”
Youth discussed solutions and then worked on dramas to be able to help open up more dialogue on these and other pressing issues. They also learned about the power of film and worked on scripts, one of which is currently in the works, to be made into a short film by Almond Tree Films Rwanda. See more photos and actvities from peace camp.
On our last night at camp, we created and signed a group commitment to peace:
We who participated in the peace camp,
We swear in God’s and men’s eyes
That we will be catalysts for peace in both good and bad times,
valuing everybody, mediating, resolving conflict without favouritism
helping to make informed and wise solutions
striving for peace and restorative justice
fighting any type of violence
guided by the word of God,
may God help us to achieve this noble commitment.
Shortly before King’s assassination, he delivered yet another impassioned speech, *A Time to Break Silence, advocating for “a genuine revolution of values…this call for worldwide fellowship that lifts neighbourly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation…a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.”
That takes the highest, self-sacrificing kind of love, agape love, the love of God, at work in people’s hearts, noted King. He died for his beliefs.
But his dream continues…”a dream of a peace where all of our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality, and men will dare to live together as brothers – that is the dream.”
Share the dream. Help provide more peace-building activities for youth in Rwanda. Learn more.
*For these quotes and more on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. see, I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World.
It’s Friday Fun Foto….So You Think You Can Dance, Rwanda? Yego! (Yes!)
Just some of the song, dance and slam (poetry) that we had at our youth peace camp, held this past November in Nyange. Our photographer is Anthony, one of the gafotozi.
See more photos by the gafotozi at peace camp.
Gotta see this…clips of some of the song, dance and slam (poetry), live and unedited, from nyange youth peace camp.
Learn more about our first peace camp and how you can help sponsor another one.
Racing into a new year….Happy New Year everyone and welcome to our first friday fun foto of 2011…
One of the fun relays and activities at Love 4 Life, our special event for World AIDS Day 2010. We held it at IFBK school in Kigali. Several youth and youth leaders from the Nyange Peace Camp also participated. Both of these events were held by a peace of life, in partnership with AEBR Youth.
See more photos of the fun that day, from water challenges to painting t-shirts.
More about the photographer: Thanks so much to our official volunteer photographer of the day, Lene Amstrup-Jensen. Lene is one of the leaders of Tugende, a project by Danish Baptist Youth and AEBR Youth.
Peace and joy this Christmas, from Rwanda…
Pictured: Almond Tree Films, Rwanda, with Michel Nsengi (second from left, back row), one of our peace camp faciliators and our new volunteer consultant in Rwanda.
We were honoured to have some of these young filmmakers (Yves Montand, Musafili Kayambi, Clementime Dusabejambo, Jean Bosco Nshimiyimana and Richard Mugwaneza) at camp and have them talk about their passion for making social change through film. One of their most recent films, Maibobo, by Yves, powerfully portrays the life of street children, a very real, but often unpopular, issue in Rwanda.
We were able to show this film at camp and youth were very moved by the issue. Noted one youth in a survey on the first day of camp (before seeing the film): “people who dress poorly [those living on the street] are normally a thief or a crazy person.”
By the end of the camp, the same question got a different answer: “I realize that this person [poorly dressed] is the way he is and you can approach him and try to understand what he’s going through and maybe you can discover that he is traumatized or has other problems hurting him.”
Youth also strongly identified with Bamporiki’s film, Long Coat, which presents some of the issues faced in reconciliation today in Rwanda, as family and friends of both survivor and killer share the hillsides, attempt to live side by side.
During peace camp, filmmakers helped youth with scriptwriting and had them do a “creative pitch” to share their script with the group. A big surprise came when it was announced that one of their scripts will be made into a short film! We hope to have this film completed early in the new year. It deals with the crucial issue of orphans, more specifically, the kinds of mistreatment they suffer in homes/families that take them in.
See more of our photos from peace camp now on flickr.
A little bit of “glee” in Rwanda! Just uploaded: watch clips of youth performing their poems and songs including the popular amahoro song created at camp.
May you too have abundant peace and joy in your heart as we celebrate the birth of the one called the prince of peace!
Love 4 Life….youth at AEBR Kacyiru painted their own personal AIDS message of love and hope on t-shirts as part of World AIDS Day. Young women around the world continue to be among the most vulnerable. Youth shared their own challenges, from peer pressure to have sex to being coerced into prostitution when no other options seemed available to earn money for food or school. The day included frank discussion on how AIDS is transmitted, the ABCs of prevention, and the crucial issue of stigma that many still face.
Another highlight was the gafotozi display – pictures taken by orphans, two of whom did powerful photo essays on the personal impact of AIDS.
From fun and learning….our fun olypmpics (with sack races, water balloons, and other team challenges) and games on stigma (pictured below) reinforced unity, love and care for all people.
The day concluded with a song of hope, about God’s love for each person.
Meet the newest peace ambassadors in Rwanda…on our last day of peace camp we celebrated, danced, sang, prayed and said our good-byes…more photos and news about all of the events at camp will be posted shortly. It was a truly remarkable opportunity to bring 48 key youth representing 6 of the AEBR schools from across the country and we greatly thank all of our supporters for helping to make this happen.
Till our next posting, we leave you with one of the peace songs written and performed at camp.
p.s. Picture taken by one of the gafotozi, our “official camp photographers”
We had our first official showing of the gafotozi exhibit in Toronto the other night, along with the screening of Munyurangabo, an internationally acclaimed film which helped to launch the start of a young film-making company in Rwanda, Almond Tree Films Rwanda. We will be working with both our gafotozi (young/small photographer in kinyarwanda) and Almond Tree Films Rwanda, at our upcoming project, a youth peace camp, November in Nyange. Any donations, equipment or cash, greatly appreciated.
Like the photos? You can help send these talented young photographers to peace camp where we will be using the film, Munyurangabo, to create live, interactive dramas, to explore conflict and other issues presented in the film and create alternate endings and sequels to the story. Please consider making a donation today.
The gafotozi exhibit is on display all this week at Merchants of Green Coffee, 2 Matilda St., Toronto. Special thanks to Johnny Lam Photography and Merchants of Green Coffee for your interest and support of our film and photo night. Johnny, Morgan and Bria, you are fabulous.
We’d love to share the amazing work of these youth. Please email email@example.com for more info on booking your own showing.
“You have to see it to believe it.”
Perhaps that’s the best message a day like today offers, as people around the world celebrate International Day of Peace. A glimpse of what could be that captures the spirit and the imagination.
Maiden of Peace
It’s only fitting today to share the story of young *Chantal Mujawamahoro (maiden of peace in kinyarwanda) and her classmates at Nyange Secondary School in Rwanda. *not pictured
In 1997, three years after the official end of the genocide in Rwanda, militia rebels continued in their mission to wreak havoc. One night, they burst into a school classroom where students had just finished homework and evening prayers. They demanded that students separate into Hutu and Tutsi. Their intention was clear – to kill all the Tutsi students.
But Chantal refuses. “All of us are Rwandans here,” are her last words as she’s shot dead. Her courage and conviction inspire her fellow classmates, and they too refuse to separate. Rebels continue to fire and even use grenades. In another classroom, the same story, and the same brave response. All in all, 6 students lose their life, and 20 wounded, rather than betray their friends and classmates. I wonder what impact the selfless act of students had on the rebels, deep down inside?
Peace starts within
This incident highlights the deeply spiritual aspect to peace – for it involves the necessity to love and forgive at some point in order to break the spiraling cycle of evil, hate, revenge, guilt and shame.
The path to peace is not in what I do, but in what I believe; that affects what and how I do things. ”The transformation that we should seek should not only be the transformation of our society, but also the transformation of our spirit because the inner transformation inspires the outer work…there is an intimate connection between our inner state and what we do in our outer spheres. This consistency is the foundation of being a fully integrated person.” (Peace Education: A Pathway to a Culture of Peace, by Centre for Peace Education)
”The fundamental principle of peace is a belief that each person is important,” notes Jean Vanier in his book, Living Gently in a Violent World. “The vision of Jesus was extraordinary… he entered into this world to love people as they are…saying to each one, “You are important. You are precious…There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that ’the other’ is important.”
Nyange in November
When we stumbled across the story of Chantal and her classmates, we knew we had found the perfect location to hold our first youth peace camp this November. It will be in Nyange, at a school just a few miles away from the original site. We will also have one of the school survivors on hand to share their story. We will learn about conflict transformation, share personal stories, and even plant a peace garden for a lasting memorium.
Join us. Help encourage and inspire youth who are committed to working for peace in Rwanda. Make a donation today.
Upcoming Special Events in Toronto:
Oct. 2 - Bowl-a-thon
2 – 4 pm, Newton Brook Bowl A Rama, 5837 Yonge St., Toronto
Join New Faith Youth Ministry in their sweet quest to have fun and raise funds to help youth at risk in Rwanda, including those courageously dealing with HIV/AIDS, go to peace camp, an inititiave of a peace of life and AEBR Youth.
Oct. 5 - a peace of life photo exhibit and film night
7:00-9:30 pm., Merchants of Green Coffee, 2 Matilda St., Toronto
Join us for the screening of Munyurangabo, a beautiful film that was also the first feature film to be produced in kinyarwanda (with English subtitles). It presents some of the issues youth face today in peace and reconciliation. Also on hand: gafotozi – photo exhibit from our village workshop last November with youth at risk in Rwanda.
Admission: suggested donation of $5, or pay what you can. We are very grateful for the generous support of Merchants of Green Coffee for providing the space for this event. Our evening will include an opportunity to make a donation for the youth peace camp in Rwanda. For more info, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Chantal Mujawamahoro (maiden of peace) truly lived up to her name. You can learn more about her story and what happened at her school in Catherine Larson’s book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. Or check out the short film, “We are all Rwandans”.
Friday fun foto…the wash cyle. Water is a precious commodity – whatever you manage to carry back to the house – and used sparingly. Little Miss Independent (below) does a great job with what she has.
A little more about today’s featured photo and photographer: Claudine, one of our gafotozi, took this photo as part of learning about the use of patterns, sequences, colors and shapes in photography. It was one of her favourite shots and selected to be included in the village art exhibit held on the final day of class.
Special event: If you’re in the Toronto area, there will be a special showing of the gafotozi art exhibit along with a surprise film screening as part of International Day of Peace activities. More details posted next week.
Like what you see? Claudine would love to go to peace camp. You can help her realize this dream.
It’s friday fun foto again…Time to eat! Family supper by candlelight. Electricity can be hard to come by in Rwanda, either too expensive or unavailable, especially in rural areas. Food can be hard to come by also, especially when prices rise on basics like rice, beans and cooking oil.
A little more about today’s photo and photographer: Anthony, one of the gafotozi, took this photo as part of exploring his essay on “village life”.
Like what you see? Anthony, the photographer, would love to go to peace camp in November. You can help make that dream come true. Make a donation.
Welcome to Friday Fun Foto. Cowzilla??? You’ve heard of bridezilla (those difficult brides-to-be), while cows are the big deal in Rwandan nuptials, an important part of the bride price for all groom wanna be’s. How many cows you give or get indicates your wealth and/or status. In fact, cows are a big deal in general, greatly treasured and cared for. And like any other source of wealth and status in our world, cows can also cause conflict. Rwanda’s economy is mainly dependent on agriculture, so land scarcity becomes an important factor for social tensions and conflict.
Today’s photographer: Germaine, 15 years old, one of the gafotozi.
Today is bitter sweet. Let’s start with sweet.
August 23 is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, “an opportunity to pay tribute to the struggle led by the slaves themselves to recover their dignity and freedom,” reports UN News Service. “An uprising on the island of Santo Domingo on the night of 22-23 August 1791 led to Haiti’s independence – the first victory of slaves over their oppressors.”
But now for the bitter. August 23 , there are reports coming out of Democratic Republic of Congo of almost 200 women gang-raped by rebels, part of an ongoing campaign over the years to terrorize and intimidate thousands. It’s a tragic reminder that conflict in the region is far from over. It brings back haunting memories of the tens of thousands of women and young girls raped as a tactic in the Rwanda Genocide.
But sexual violence and exploitation is not just a tactic of warring rebels and genocidaires.
We hear stories of youth, male and female, who are being taken advantage of, often because they are orphans, living on their own, struggling to provide for their younger siblings. They lack a trusted adult presence, support and protection. When they do receive adult attention, it is often the wrong kind – offers of help or support in exchange for sexual favours. It’s such a common practice, there’s a name for it, shugar mami/shugar dadi, and it’s fueling the ongoing HIV crisis. Exploitation is one of the topics to be discussed at the peace camp. We will hear courageous stories from young women and young men who have somehow survived and risen above incredible challenges in their life.
That brings us back to the sweet.
Over 200 years ago, individual people acted, to stop slavery. It took a long time and included the efforts of those being oppressed and well as those benefitting in some way. It’s disturbing to know that somehow we support all kinds of injustice today in ways we can’t even imagine, through our global economy. But we can consider the actions of just a few of your average tea drinkers who started a simple act, to boycott sugar, as their small part to stop plantation owners and businesses and others who were participating in the inhumane practice of slavery. Their acts and commitment are inspiring. And eventually it helped bring change.
Today we have a very small, but similar opportunity. Take the One Sweet Challenge. Do one small thing or give up one small thing, and help us raise funds for a peace camp in Rwanda. Each act will make a difference because you will help to train, empower and encourage over 50 youth to be leaders among their peers in a region that struggles to rebuild not only from genocide, but also the silent devastation going on such as extreme poverty and AIDS. Learn more about the peace camp.
A little more about the featured photo and photographer: Claudine, one of our gafotozi, took this photo (see above) as part of her essay on sewing “because I wanted to show others that we can sew…we can do this and earn a good living.” The poster is near the sewing shop that she and several other youth have started by pooling their small savings together. They received skills and business training and support from Children of Hope, a remarkable program among child/youth-headed households, and one of their first contracts – to sew school uniforms for other orphans in the program.
It’s another Friday Fun Foto from Rwanda. Here’s looking at you, kid!
A little about the photographer: Olivier, one of our gafotozi, loves fixing things and wants to become a mechanic. He also loves his mom and baby niece who lives with them. Olivier’s mom says he has lots of courage. Perhaps that’s why he chose to explore the personal impact of HIV and AIDS on one family – his family – for his photo essay. Olivier lost his dad to this disease and now his mom is ill. He’s happy that she has access to antiretroviral treatment which can help her live a long time. Olivier says that his biggest hope is that life improves for his mom. Stigma is still difficult to deal with and that’s one reason why he wanted to focus on this issue.
You can also help his mom. Learn more about Guardians of Hope, a remarkable grassroots program among families most impacted by HIV and AIDS. Olivier’s mom attends one of these support groups and is greatly encouraged.