By Jessica Mbanda (Content Developer and Youth-Orientated Intervention Practitioner at Never Again Rwanda)
It is only about two decades since Rwanda and her people witnessed the brutal killings and bloodshed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in which over one million lives were claimed in just under 100 days. Men, women, and children were killed at close proximity by their neighbors, friends, and relatives, butchered with machetes, knives, scythes, clubs, and sharpened sticks.
After the 100 days, many survivors were left with dire injuries that rendered them permanently disabled, as well as traumatized from the horror they had been through. Others had to live with the guilt of what they did. Some children inherited the shame of what their fathers and mothers did while other children were deprived of the right to grow up with loving parents. All of them were raised in a society full of anger, a thirst for revenge, and deep prejudice. This desperate situation needed deliberate and sustained efforts from the government and organizations to engage citizens, most especially young people, in peacebuilding processes in their schools and communities.
Since its inception in 2002, Never Again Rwanda (NAR) has been working with young people. At NAR, we empower young people to be active citizens who advance and champion peace in their daily lives, and also inspire their peers to choose peace. NAR holds a variety of youth-oriented activities throughout the year because we believe there are many benefits of integrating young people into peacebuilding processes.
Integrating young people into peacebuilding processes reduces ethnic tensions that were prevalent in Rwanda before, during, and after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Through initiatives like forming “Spaces for Peace”, where youth from diverse backgrounds discuss their traumatic and sensitive past, they are able nurture a sense of tolerance, understand each other’s pain and celebrate each other’s differences, thus seeing each other as Rwandans and leaving behind the ethnic divides of the past.
The decline of ethnic tension is pivotal to the promotion of unity and reconciliation. When young people are engaged in peacebuilding processes they begin healing, which creates room for forgiveness and paves the way for reconciliation. The Government of Rwanda has put in place a number of policies and strategies, all aimed at fostering unity and social cohesion, as well as ensuring that Rwandans are treated equally. Engaging youth in campaigns like “Ndi Umunyarwanda” (I am Rwandan) has been fruitful in getting them to embrace the values of unity and promoting a national identity, which is a key pillar in building a Rwandan community that is based on trust and unity.
The more young people are engaged in peacebuilding activities, the more they acquire the skills in conflict management and resolution, which helps to create positive change in their communities. And as they go back to their families, schools, and clubs, they are able to start their own interventions, geared towards enhancing peace. With minimal resources, youth-led activities have proven to be instrumental in spreading messages of peace at the grassroots level. Youth that have been trained by NAR have started their own initiatives. Some of these include football tournaments for peace, debate sessions, and community dialogues, among many other activities. As more youth start up their own peace initiatives today, it gives a glimmer of hope for the future, where we believe that lasting peace is possible. We create initiatives for the benefit of today and tomorrow’s generations, because they will continue to carry the light and act for peace.
During any conflict, youth are often more prone to being manipulated to commit crimes, partially because they lack the skill to make informed decisions and partially because they fear questioning what an elder says. During the genocide, many young people were forced to kill, rape, and to witness gruesome murders. NAR runs a Peacebuilding Institute that convenes youth from different parts of the world to not only enhance their knowledge on peacebuilding, but also to train them on critical thinking. When critical thinking is related to peacebuilding, it fosters empathy, an appreciation of diversity and open-mindedness, and an ability to overcome stereotypes, blind obedience, and manipulation. At NAR we believe that if young people receive peace education, the critical thinking skills and the commitment to peace can help them say no to violence, because they are able to question manipulations or genocide ideologies.
Some of the young people in Rwanda today were children when the genocide happened, which means they had their own share of the bitterness and darkness that engulfed the country. This also means that because they saw the worst of crimes of humanity, they harbor their own traumas and pain for whatever they lost. Engaging them in peacebuilding process today is one way of helping them to heal from their wounds and help them rebuild their lives, because they are one of the pillars of the nation and their contribution to the growth of the economy is vital. However, without healing from their trauma they find it more difficult to contribute.
Today, NAR is proud to have over 4,000 young people, as members of over 100 Never Again clubs in schooling and non-schooling communities. Through these clubs, NAR integrates young people into peacebuilding processes, through different small and big activities, in a bid to groom the next generation of leaders that will champion for lasting peace in families, communities, countries, and the world. Young people have a critical duty to the world, and we need to give them the space and the skills for them to fulfill that duty – spreading peace!
To find out more about Never Again Rwanda: