Research from around the world tells us that - without direct intervention - trauma caused to a community from any atrocity is passed to the next generation. So what kind of intervention will work?
Rwanda has made incredible progress over the past two decades. Coming up to the 23rd anniversary of the genocide, there is much to be proud of. Kigali is a bustling modern city, there is improved health and education throughout the country and a huge reduction in poverty. However there is no complacency. There is still much to be done to improve the lives of all Rwandans and there is inevitably still enormous pain from past wounds.
With this awareness, in 2016, the Rwandan Education Board incorporated peace education as a cross-cutting theme into the new national curriculum. While the current student population in Rwanda were not yet born during the atrocities of 1994, they are nevertheless exposed to the effects of the genocide through the adults who influence their lives. Without intervention, this young generation is vulnerable to developing attitudes and behaviours which could lead to recurrence of violence and unrest.
Education for Peace is a programme which is evolving within an educational framework, exposing students to critical thinking, development of empathy and appreciation of each other’s stories and giving them the tools to solve every day conflict and understand their own growing responsibilities in shaping the country’s future. Until now this programme, developed by the Aegis Trust, has only been accessible to secondary schools. At APIE we believe that this work needs to start while children are still young and in primary schools where parents and other adults are also engaged, so we have accessed Aegis training and are adapting for use in our primary setting.
How does it work?
Over the past two years, APIE has been working with local and international partners to develop an innovative programme of education for peace for primary age children, their teachers, families and the wider community. This is more than a set of lesson plans. The ethos of education for peace underpins all our work, the way we behave, the language we use and our responses to every day conflict. It evolves as every-day challenges arise and as the staff step up willingly to tackle these and learn from them. Our pilot school, Umubano Primary, has embraced the cross cutting themes in the new curriculum and has, in partnership with the Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial, designed in-house training for all staff.
Why is it so important?
A primary school is able to function as a microcosm of the wider community and we believe that this model is a hugely powerful contribution to creating a peaceful and stable society. We see that this ethos is having an impact on children’s academic achievement, as well as their confidence and ability to see themselves as able to contribute positively to society. We see its impact on parents and the wider community in terms of attitudes and behaviour. We use drama, arts and sports, as well as more traditional subjects to engage everyone in dialogue about who we are and how we want to live. Our school caters for children of all abilities and backgrounds, where daily acts of kindness are evident. This is not only positive intervention to avert future tragedy; it shows how a school can be a hub for the community, from which it draws strength and lessons for life. Umubano Primary School makes everyone welcome, has regular community events, no physical punishment and a positive, committed team of teachers and support staff, led by a passionate Head Teacher who demonstrates daily that everyone is welcome, valued and valuable.
Devastation from genocide causes fragmentation of community and rapid urbanisation, while it has many advantages, can exacerbate feelings of isolation and fear of others. Schools can play a key role in restoring a sense of connecting and belonging that might have once been commonplace in village life. The primary school is the 21st century village, bringing people together to develop shared values, principles and hope for the future.
The APIE team, together with the staff at Umubano Primary School are committed to the journey of continued learning and development of this work. We welcome partnership with any who are interested in exploring education for peace – something much needed in this turbulent world – not only in Rwanda. Our plans as we start the new school year include developing ways of sharing our learning with other schools and if you are interested we would love to hear from you.