Fragments of families - visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial was eye-opening for all of the participants at peace camp. Among the powerful exhibits were wall-to-wall photos of family members who had been killed: a mom, a son, an aunt, a cousin…row after row of victims. One section contained photos of babies and young children. Each had a small note card that listed their name, age, favourite food, favourite activity and how they were killed: thrown against a wall; hacked with a machete; shot in the head; thrown down an outside toilet…
It leaves you wondering about evil and injustice. How do you respond? With despair and a sense of futility? With anger and desire for revenge? Or with hope and determination to overcome evil with good?
On another wall were stories of people who helped their neighbours and others, often at great personal cost. I’m glad the memorial included this. It’s important to have this reminder of goodness at work even in the midst of evil – and that you have a personal choice to make. How do you wish to live? To go along with evil or to take a stand against it?
Seeing one of the young boys come and comfort the other (pictured above) is hope for Rwanda, for all of us. They symbolize a brotherhood that is possible and the willingness of youth to not only learn from past mistakes, but to also work together to build peace and community – a better life not just for themselves, but for each other. Empathy is a crucial building block in this process. Being able to listen to someone’s story or opinion or perspective builds empathy, dignity and respect. We hope that the peace camp opens up these safe spaces to share, learn and listen. To be able to talk to, not at, each other.
Back at camp, we had a time to reflect and share about the memorial visit. Here is one youth reflection from that day:
Yesterday when we went to the memorial site emotionally it took me back to a bad situation. Yes, it’s better to remember our history so that we can build a bright future, but when I looked on photos I saw one woman who was the older sister of our neighbour. I just saw her begging UN armies to save her and eventually they didn’t save her so that made me to be even more sad.
Also there was a small text which was on the side of a photo of General Dallaire who was a UN chief commander in Rwanda in 1994. It said that he wrote a letter to the UN headquarters showing the situation which was bad in Rwanda, but they didn’t authorize him to fight against genocide! So that text message also made me very sad. So though I read some text messages of UN chambers negotiating what they didn’t do to save people, this should make the whole world not repeat the same mistake.
So from these things I was very sad, but it also makes me to be strong and say ‘NEVER AGAIN’.
Music soothes the soul…later that afternoon, youth gathered to sing somgs of love, peace and unity. Listen to one song.
For more youth peace media, see Change Poems.
Paulette Baraka/Peace Camp 2012: Some emotional hurts are lighter, don’t last long and are more visible than others; while some are deep wounds, hard to see, long-lasting, buried within, and surface in a variety of ways and behaviours.
Don’t you think we’ve had enough extreme hate in our world? Time for some extreme loving!
To help youth cope with what they saw and felt at the memorial, and to be able to better understand each other, we had a session on trauma and mental health led by psychologist Paulette Baraka. At the heart of her teaching is belief in the dignity and value of each person. And that God can heal any wound in life.
We believe that helping youth to discover inner peace, to know that they are created in God’s image, loved by God, is an important step in life and in any peace-building. For it’s only in knowing deep in your heart and mind that you are truly loved and valued, that you can treat others in the same way – with love and respect. And have the strength to not be overcome by evil, but instead to conquer evil by doing good. Join us.
p.s. We’re busy working on exciting plans for Peace Camp 2013. More details to be posted shortly along with updates from youth peace clubs and some of their activities during this time of the 19th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi.
Photos: Johnny Lam Photography/A Peace of Life. All rights reserved.
Happy Easter, with love from Rwanda
Think change is impossible? Be inspired by these Change Poems written by courageous youth as part of activities at Peace Camp 2012.
I was… hopeless.
I remember… little children encouraged to kill.
I heard… people calling others animal names.
I saw… people mistreating their neighbours.
I worried… about the day after that.
I thought …it was the end of life.
But I want to change.
I am… built up with peace.
I think… of the world with love and peace.
I will try… to live in peace with myself.
I feel… so strong.
I forgive… all mistaken elders.
Now I can change.
I will… be a peace-builder.
I choose… to follow the bright side.
I dream… of making the world more peaceful.
I hope… to live in a wonderful place.
I know… I will make it in Jesus’ name.
I will change.
View Change Poems 2012 Presentation for more inspiring youth poems.
As we enter Holy Week, a time of intense sorrow but also incredible joy, we remember, reflect and celebrate the world’s greatest example of love and forgiveness – the death and resurrection of Jesus so that all can be reconciled to God and to each other. It’s a message of true peace. It starts with a personal choice to change.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis occurred on the eve of the Easter season. Neighbour sat beside neighbour in church and then some went about brutally eliminating their neighbour. It’s a soul-wrenching reminder of the battle raging between good and evil in our world. Are we complicit? Complacent? Or are we committed to not being overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good? There are many youth in Rwanda who are committed to doing just that, to being peacemakers in whatever situation they find themselves in.
We believe it starts with treating each other with dignity, to listen, to show empathy, to help each other explore skills and talents. We encourage the use of the arts to stimulate creativity and sharing our stories, to discover common ground.
Photos: Johnny Lam Photography/A Peace of Life. All rights reserved.
Congratulations to the latest graduates of peace camp offered annually by A Peace of Life in partnership with AEBR Youth! The most poignant and meaningful activity of Peace Camp 2012 was the day we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre (pictured above). It was a time to renew our commitment to work together to be a source of peace, hope and love in our world. After this deeply emotional day youth were encouraged to write reflections on their visit. We look forward to sharing some of their thoughts and writings in future blog postings.
Peace Camp 2012 brought together over 60 youth and camp leaders from across Rwanda as well as a team of youth leaders from neighbouring DR Congo and volunteers from Canada and Kenya. We enjoyed a jam-packed six days of interactive learning on conflict and conflict transformation, peer to peer counselling basics in mental health and trauma, art therapy, character development for radio scripts, and self-help group basics.
Our training involved a variety of hands-on-learning and games - including our very own peace olympics which featured team relays and challenges as well as an arts category with spoken word (peace poems) and dance presentations. Pictured: Dydine, one of our volunteer directors in Rwanda, was our “filmmaker in residence” at camp, capturing activities such as this peace poem performed on the last day of camp. Dydine is one of Rwanda’s up-and-coming talents and has started an organization, Umbrella Cinema Promoters, to empower and encourage more female participation in the film industry. We look forward to seeing more of her work and will be uploading some short clips on our YouTube channel in the coming months.
Popular night activities (besides staying up late in the dorms to talk!) included campfire night. Pictured left to right: Michel, our camp co-director, teaches William, our Kenyan volunteer, some Rwandan dance moves to the delight of campers. William also led a workshop on starting a self help group and shared some of his personal peace-building experience which includes food security and development in one of the most violent-prone and drought-striken regions of Kenya.
Another special night was the screening, in our makeshift outdoor theatre, of the latest short film, “Behind the Word,” by Clementine Dusabejambo, one of Rwanda’s rising stars in the film industry. She was on hand with other filmmakers of Almond Tree Films to answer questions and encourage youth to pursue their dreams and potential in the arts.
Pictured: Anthony, a former peace camper, returns as a leader. We were thrilled to have Anthony lead a session and share his personal experience in starting a peace club in his village. Anthony also facilitated an outdoor game that he learned this past year as part of trauma counselling training with pyschologist Paulette Baraka. We were also pleased to have Paulette join us once again to facilitate a session on spiritual and mental health after our visit to the Memorial Centre to help youth process their feelings. Read more about Anthony’s story
There’s so much more to report on from peace camp 2012, but that will have to wait till next month’s posting. Thanks so much to all of our donors and volunteers for making this event possible. You are terrific!
Photo credit (for all photos in this blog posting): Johnny Lam Photography
And the winner is…..BIG congratulations to all the youth from 8 schools across Rwanda who have been selected to go this year’s peace camp. The contest was tough, but fun and your entries were highly creative. It was a very difficult choice. We look forward to meeting you all in less than a month. We will be joined by a team of youth from the DR Congo, a team from Peace and Love Proclaimers, as well as some mystery guests.
But enough said. We don’t want to give away too many details, and spoil the surprise. We are very pleased to be able to offer some new activities this year, as part of our growing emphasis on youth entrepreneurship and social enterprise. As one of the previous peace camp participants so clearly articulated, “There can be no peace without development and no development without peace.”
So the count down begins….27 days till the opening of peace camp 2012. Till then, good luck to those who are studying and in the middle of final exams.
May we each continue to experience the peace of heart and mind that comes from knowing our creator God who desires that each person experience fullness of life…peace in all areas of life….including exams and all the other stresses of life.
Another Friday Fun Foto: “You got to put your butt into it” – learning to dance Congolese style at Youth Peace Camp in Rwanda.
Sometimes life just gets too serious and you have to have some fun. One of the most anticipated parts of the day at peace camp are the talent nights where youth create and perform their favourite dances, songs, skits, and poems. At last year’s camp, dances from the Congo were the most popular of all…well that, and watching some of the leaders take a shot at showing some moves. See more photos from peace camp and other activites
Youth are finding that song and dance are popular ways to create some common ground and to spread their message of peace. Club Unity in Mubago, for instance, have incorporated learning traditional dance in their community peace-building activities. They’re finding it’s also a great way to build more understanding between generations and learn more about their shared culture. See video clip of some of the kids performing
This November, we expect even more fun and cultural learning as we invite youth representatives from other countries in the Great Lakes region to attend Peace Camp 2012. Till then, however, our hearts and prayers go out to youth and their leaders from the DR Congo who attended camp last year and are currently having to cope with continued violence and unrest in their region. May youth continue to lead the way in peace-building and become excellent role models in all sectors of society for a better future.
“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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“Home” is a powerful theme in Anthony’s work and life. Perhaps it’s because he’s experienced life as a refugee when he was a child. Anthony is one of the original Gafotozi and he took this shot of a family in his village while developing a photo essay on village life in Rwanda.
After attending his first peace camp, Anthony started a peace club back in his village. He was selected by A Peace of Life to attend a series of peer-to-peer training in trauma and counselling – an opportunity graciously offered by Paulette Baraka (of Gate of Hope Ministries) who led one of the workshops at our peace camp last year. See photos
Here is Anthony’s report from the most recent training (held earlier this month):
We each presented a report of the cases we had encountered after our first level of training. Then we learned about sadness, about shame and self condemning, and about violence – sexual-based violence and violence which takes place at home. One big thing which I learned about is the need to understand yourself. I hope it will help me to be a good counselor.
But even though I was trained to counsel others, I have been counseled too because we had sufficient time to share about our life with others at the training. I now understand how much my life had been destroyed (impacted). For instance, I met one young boy whose brother died and the boy had a problem of depression. It has been so difficult for me to know how to help him because I realized his background history was the same as mine.
I’ve just helped two other people in my village with their problems and I’m really looking forward to attending the next level of training which will take place the end of July.
We really thank you for how you care about the soul of Rwandans and looking for all possible ways to heal injuries (trauma) including those left by the Genocide Against the Tutsi in 1994.
May God bless A Peace of Life, and bless Baraka. She is a real counselor and trainer. Truly you may not have an idea of how peaceful my heart is after these workshops. I have made many steps towards my healing, and I’m ready to help others to reach the healing stage I’m at.
A Peace of Life is now helping Anthony to work on a book to share his life story. He will also be sharing his learning with youth at the next peace camp to be held in November 2012.
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.
April is a time when painful memories surface in Rwanda. As part of the 18th Commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi, we feature this very special guest post by a young Rwandan courageous enough to bare his soul, sharing his personal experience and hope for his homeland.
Through Forgiveness, Rebuild the Future
A reflection and poem by Timo
I remember that President Habyarimana kept referring to my country, Rwanda, like a glass full of water: “If the glass was already full, how could you pour more water inside? If you pour more water and the glass is full, water will flow over, everywhere.”
What he meant was that before Tutsis could return home, those that were in the country would have to go. Before we could return, more of us were supposed to die so we could fill the place where they were, because there was no place for us.
Following the genocide, the newly established government encouraged those who had killed others to ask for forgiveness, while asking those who had lost their families to extend their forgiveness and try to move forward. Those Hutus that fled into Zaire (currently Democratic Republic of Congo) and other surrounding countries were asked to come back and help rebuild the country, even though some of them had participated in destroying it.
At first, it was difficult for both sides to show understanding towards each other. But over time, people found that to be able to build the country, they needed to work together and live together in peace, even though others still harbored the same mindset to pull the country back into darkness.
Let us remember what happened in 1994; the destruction of the country, and the overpowering smell of death everywhere. When we compare that with our homeland today, merely 18 years after the genocide, the country has been rebuilt. How about we keep moving in this direction? Let us show them, those who have destroyed, and have in mind to destroy again, that we are conquerors.
The way I try to forgive is just to try to move on, to go to a new page in my life, to take another step forward. If I keep reminding myself, keep going through the pain, keep having conflict with the people that have killed my family, I will never take another step, never go to another stage of my life. I will never forget what happened, but try to understand the situation, to be able to move on with my life and not let the others’ actions in the past be the barrier for me to go to another place. I can do more. I can prove more. When you fail, and someone wishes you to fail, he will be happy, because he is successful. But if you succeed in what you were supposed to fail, he will be unhappy, because he or she didn’t find what was expected. This is what we are doing, not out of revenge. I do it for my future. I do it for the people who will come after me, like my children, so they will never face the same problem as I faced.
Return to the Homeland
Return to the homeland, site of destruction
Smell in the air, bodies stacked where once homes were
Families, histories, disposed of and drained with sewage
Memories lost, replaced with those that awaken our tenuous rest
Distinction of once-measured faces; us and them, them and us
Tension and fear that the tide will turn backwards
Over hatred and resentment that our presence made the glass flow over
But we are the same in belief and culture, home and hope
Fight not for revenge against them, but to turn the page for us
Look back to family lost while stepping forward for our children
When failure is to be defeated, resistance will be to succeed
Forgiveness because we choose never to understand hate
Assured that only God will ever know the purpose of this suffering
With strength, we will our hearts to change chapters
The dawn of spring brings with it the return of blood in our minds
But with the absence of hate in this eternal loss
And hope for our future when we accept and forgive.
About the photo: One of the rivers in Rwanda said to be the source of the Nile. During the 100-day killing spree of the Genocide, rivers became clogged with dead bodies. The river is a poignant reflection of the intense pain behind the intense beauty of the country.
Coming up: We’re getting ready to launch a national contest in Rwanda to pick participants for Peace Camp 2012. We hope to bring 50 youth together for 10 days of storytelling and peacebuilding through creative arts and the media. Learn more how you can help make this happen.
See what happened last year at camp.
Another Friday Fun Photo – Guess what happened split seconds after this photo was taken? Lots of fun – and soaking wet bodies – as camp leaders and youth splash the water around, enjoying some refreshment after an afternoon of planting trees and picking up garbage on the grounds of our host school. It was all part of a workshop on peace and the environment at last year’s peace camp.
Planting trees is an important part of helping to conserve the natural, beautiful environment of Rwanda as well as replace trees used as firewood for cooking. Every November, Rwanda launches a national tree-planting campaign to encourage environmental conservation and awareness.
Many youth peace clubs, including Club Unity in Mubago, are including the planting of trees in their peace-building activities. They are finding that it’s an easy and practical way to bring everyone in the village together to do a community activity as well as open a way to talk about other crucial issues they can work on together. Sometimes there is even a sharing of personal stories and an opportunity to offer forgiveness and build reconciliation among neighbours. It’s inspiring to see youth lead the way in this ground-breaking work.
The peace camp is an annual event offered by A Peace of Life with local partners such as AEBR Youth. Plans are underway for Peace Camp 2012. Help sponsor youth peace-building in Rwanda by making a donation today.
As part of celebrating World Water Day, we’re also pleased to present a multimedia presentation on water. It was created by youth who participated in a photography workshop at peace camp 2011. The workshop was facilitated by Johnny Lam, a professional documentary photographer who volunteers his time and expertise with A Peace of Life. Johnny has launched Gafotozi, to help empower vulnerable youth to use photography in peace-building and storytelling. Enjoy the show!
*Photos in today’s post taken by some of the youth from the photography workshop
Pictured: The gafotozi exhibit at Love 4 Life, a youth arts event held by A Peace of Life in Kacyiru (Rwanda) as part of World AIDS Day 2010. Two of the photo essays focus on the personal impact of HIV and AIDS. They were created by 5 youth who participated in our first photography workshop in 2009 which resulted in the founding of Gafotozi by Johnny CY Lam, documentary photojournalist affiliated with A Peace of Life.
In December 2011, we returned to the same village where we held the first workshop and stayed with one of our gafotozi families most impacted by HIV. One morning, Johnny shot an incredible series of photos on the waking moments of the family – where mom and two of her children must take antiretroviral medication to remain alive and well.
The resulting photos became a powerful and moving photo essay by Johnny called 13: Living with HIV in Rwanda. The first 13 minutes of each day.
On March 16-29, 2012, his remarkable exhibit, along with photos from the gafotozi, will be on display at The Department, 1389 Dundas St. W., Toronto. Plan to attend. Contact us for more info.
As part of this special event, A Peace of Life will present short films by young filmmakers of Almond Tree Films Rwanda which show another challenge facing youth in Rwanda today – coping with the legacy left by the 1994 Tutsi Genocide which nearly destroyed their country. While much progress has been made over the years, trauma, mistrust and fear linger. These young filmmakers share stories of the pain, hope, love and courage behind peace and reconciliation. We also look forward to some surprise guests!
Pictured: Yves Montand, one of the young filmmakers of Almond Tree Films Rwanda, introduces the short film, Tears of Hope, at the opening of Peace Camp 2011. This film was produced from a script written – and acted – by youth who attended Peace Camp 2010. For the past two years, Almond Tree Films Rwanda has trained youth in filmmaking as part of the annual peace camps offered by A Peace of Life in partnership with AEBR Youth.
More news to be posted shortly on Peace Camp 2012!
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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
Dive into the new year with A Peace of Life in Rwanda!
Merry Christmas and happy new year…Noheli nziza n’umwaka mushya muhire…to all of our youth peace catalysts, volunteers and supporters. You truly are amazing and we can’t thank you enough! May we continue to inspire each other to fill our world with love, hope and peace.
Pictured: A welcome break for youth at Lake Kivu after a full week of intense training at Peace Camp 2011. Plans are now in the works for the next Peace Camp and other youth activities in 2012. Looks like we’re heading into another challenging and exciting year…can’t wait to dive in! Join us!
Photo credit: A Peace of Life/Johnny Lam Photography
AWOO….peace camp 2011 in Gisenyi was a big hit, especially the afternoon we walked to Lake Kivu – for most of the youth participants it was their first trip to the beach and a chance to try swimming and playing in the water. It was a wonderful way to end the morning session on trauma and mental health which was led by Paulette Baraka, a professional counsellor and psychologist who specializes in issues faced by orphans and vulnerable children. Paulette’s workshop was one of the highlights of camp.
Another highlight was the workshop on photography led by Johnny Lam. Five new gafotozi were added to the original crew. During the week they worked very hard to develop a multimedia presentation on “water” which they then premiered on the closing night of camp.
We also enjoyed the presentations of youth peace clubs including Solace Sowers, BBA, Club Unity (Mubago), Peace & Love Proclaimers.
We thank all of our donors and supporters who helped us to bring together double the number of youth from the first camp (held in 2010 in Nyange). This year, we were very happy to have almost 80 youth from across the country (and even a few participants from the Congo) for a week of learning, mentoring and fun through a variety of peace activities including drama, photography, scriptwriting and sports.
More news and photos from camp will be posted shortly.
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.
Another Friday Fun Photo: Go Team Go! Tugende muze Tugende!
Pictured: Club Courageous in Gisenyi – quite possibly some of the next U-17 players for Rwanda! We love your team spirit – you’re already champions – keep your hopes and dreams alive!
Next week FIFA U-17 World Cup begins in Mexico and guess who’s there? Congrats Rwanda U-17, the first team from Rwanda to make it to a FIFA world championship. Follow all the action online - Rwanda’s first big game is on the 19th, when they take on England.
A Peace of Life is planning a fun youth event in Kacyiru (Rwanda) as part of U-17 World Cup. Stay tuned for more exciting news!
We also kick start planning of activities for our next annual peace camp, which will include learning on the use of sport and media to build common ground, peace and unity. One great example that’s inspiring us these days: The Team, a sports soap opera, that’s a ground-breaking, multi nation television project, as well as other innovative, locally written and produced projects of Search for Common Ground. Play on!
Join our team. Make an online donation today and support youth working for peace and development in Africa.
Friday Photo: A big awooo…Vuga awooo nini!
We celebrate the launch of Youth Catalysts for Peace newspaper in Rwanda this week, one of the outcomes from the first youth peace camp held last November in Nyange by A Peace of Life and AEBR Youth. Plans are now underway for Youth Peace Camp 2011, Nov. 20-26. Make a donation today.
And a big awooo to Gateway Youth Group, Victoria, BC, Canada for your prayers during last night’s event as part of our first Solidarity Tour to raise funds for more youth peace media initiatives in Rwanda including the next youth peace camp.
If you’re in the Vancouver Island area, join us for Solidarity Tea:
2-4 pm, Sat., May 14, Duncan United Church,
246 Ingram St., Duncan, BC
For 100 days in Rwanda, from April to July, a candle burns…from the flame that stays lit for the entire period at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre to small commemorations across the country such as this special day of mourning at INATEK (in Kibungo), April 29, by student survivors and orphans of the Tutsi Genocide. The day was organized by the local chapter of AERG, an association created in 1996 to become a new family for all orphans of the Genocide. Each university and high school in Rwanda has an AERG association.
One of our partners, Basic Brilliant Africa (BBA), participated in this day. “We want to be with them at this time and to do some thing like a symbol of love and solidarity of remembering together what happened,” noted BBA President Jean Paul Ngiruwera.
Join us on Mother’s Day and for the remaining days of May, June and July, as we stand in solidarity with youth in Rwanda who have lost a mom, a dad, and other loved ones. Make a donation - a little gift of motherly love that will send some youth to peace camp. See what happened at the first peace camp.
Memory is important in the peace and reconciliation process. See more stories.
We also stand in solidarity with those who continue to suffer from violence and remember moms like Kavugho Kalupao who 7 years ago saw all of her children, and her husband, killed before her eyes. She is the sole survivor of her village of 720. She lives in the DR Congo, in a region plagued by years of war and where rape continues to be a tactic, a weapon of intimidation and destruction that was used in the Genocide and still used today. We thank her for courageouly sharing her story to encourage others in her situation.
It’s a difficult story to share, but she truly is a mother, and a woman, to honor on Mother’s Day.
“They laid us all down [in the village] like firewood and I said ‘Please, let me pray to my God’,” she recalls. She prayed and they proceeded to rape, torture, beat and cut her with a panga (machete). “They left me, thinking I was dead. After many hours I regained consciousness and started moving, crawling on my belly, because I couldn’t stand up.”
Somehow she survived, hiding in the forest for a whole month, without medicine or medical treatment. She eventually made her way to Goma and met a pastor who helped her. “He started to counsel me so I did not go crazy. I’m surving today because of this pastor, otherwise I don’t know where I would be.”
It took several years for her to start to come to terms, emotionally and spiritually, with what happened. “God is with me…I forgave them…they didn’t know what they were doing,” she now shares, noting the impact of the counselling, love and support of this pastor and others at Oneness Development Institute. “They told me that I am special person in God’s eyes…that I survived for an important reason…I realize that I would be hurting myself [if I didn't forgive] and that my God will heal me and help me.”
Today this brave woman helps other women, especially teen moms, who have experienced the same humiliation and brutal hurt in their lives, often shunned by the community, even thrown out of the family, after their ordeal. With the training and support of Oneness Development Institute, they have formed an association and started small businesses of selling mandazi (African donut), sugar cane, bananas, tomatoes and peanuts. They have also started a group savings and have plans to learn sewing and to start a tailoring business. A Peace of Life is one of their partners and we hope to bring some of these youth from the Congo to the next peace camp where we will be focussing on entrepreneurship, to help youth develop business skills to combat poverty in their family, development that’s crucial to the peace and reconciliation process.
Stop the cycle of violence with a gift of love. Help train and mentor youth who are working for peace and development in Rwanda and the DR Congo. See more inspiring stories of youth working for change.
During April, Rwanda becomes the country of a thousand tears as the nation gathers to remember and mourn those tragic days when society failed – when over 800,000 (a conservative estimate) people were slaughtered in the Tutsi Genocide within a mere 100 days. The scale and intensity of this time remains unfathomable. And while today there’s an uneasy peace, so much remains unsaid. For some, it’s still too painful to put into words. For others, there’s a desire to try and forget and move on. And then there are those who still attempt to bury the truth, denying either their role or what happened. More truth-telling is needed for reconciliation.
It is not easy. There is no quick fix when trust has been broken. Reconciliation is often a slow and painful journey that differs for each person. Time and grace are the best gifts that can be offered - time and grace to allow each one to heal in his or her own way. Simply telling someone, “You must forgive,” is not helpful. Forgiveness emerges when one is ready and able to make peace with one’s own past. Once you have this inner peace, you are then able to reach out to others. It’s a journey that starts with love.
“Love is a catalyst for peace…it sets you free yourself,” commented one of the youth at peace camp. She and the other youth at camp were inspired by the story of a group of students who made a courageous stand for unity, at great personal cost, three years after the genocide. Love is at the root of their story. “We were training to love each other,” noted Phanuel, one of the survivors. Read more about the Nyange national heroes.
Memory is important to the peace process. Stories must be remembered and shared for more understanding and common ground. Commemoration, in spite of being so difficult, is an essential time to cry together, to remember together, but also to commit anew to working together. It’s a time to shed a thousand tears of hope for a better future where all may live together in true peace, recognizing the value and dignity of each person.
It’s the message behind Easter, where we encounter the source of true love, the God of all creation, who sent his only son, Jesus, to show us the way. Through his death and resurrection all may be reconciled to God and to each other. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis occurred on the eve of the Easter season. A soul-wrenching reminder of the battle raging between good and evil in our world. Are we complicit? Complacent? Or committed to not be overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good?
A group of youth have committed themselves to doing just that. They call themselves Youth Catalysts for Peace. Learn more
Help sponsor Peace Camp 2011 where we will be working with youth on skills development in conflict transformation including anger management and trauma counselling and sharing more stories through drama, song and dance.
Note: The photo in this posting is an outtake from a new short film, Tears of Hope, soon to be released by Almond Tree Films, Rwanda. It was produced from a script written by youth at our first peace camp (held last November) to highlight one of the issues they felt most strongly about: the plight of orphans who are taken into other people’s homes. Other short films from Almond Tree Films, Rwanda, such as the powerful Long Coat, are also available. Contact us to book your own special showing or peace camp presentation.
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.