Three years after our first recordings, what are Stories For Hope participants doing? We invited as many as could come, to witness the formal deposit of their dialogues with chosen elders, in Rwanda's National Archives. Their many questions and stories about the past will become part of Rwanda's history.
Newcomers heard them talk about how breaking the silences have spurred them on to be more vocal in their communities, connect with others, advocate for Rwandan culture, and promote peace and reconciliation.
Many had already been through entrepreneurship training we offered them in 2012, in exchange for becoming Stories For Hope advocates.
The exhibit, made possible by the University of Michigan, was highlighted by a large listening station of CD players and headphones, and two large display panels in both English and Kinyarwanda. And of course, the CD-ROM recordings of their dialogues were there too.
Representative were there from government, education, and Kigali's new Public Library, which has requested the exhibit for several months, so that ordinary Rwandan youth can stop by to listen.
Our next goal is to ready the project for further dissemination, in time for the 20th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, in 2014.
In August 2012, twelve of our participants will take part in a 4-day workshop to teach young people how to become entrepreneurs. Our manager Tambo Nelson has defined the mission:
"In Rwanda, to be an 'entrepreneur' is not just to begin a small business. It is to take the initiative to support yourself without relying on others to give you a job, or take care of you. Entrepreneurship is a frame of mind."
Stories for Hope, with its dialogue project, has established that renewed connections between elders and youth, and conversations about the past, have been freeing for young people, and confidence building. They have new energy, and hope for the future.
At the same time, the future cannot be just a dream. To make it a reality means equipping yourself with the skills and attitudes needed to turn your dream into a reality.
Tambo is heading up this project in Rwanda. He is taking applications from young people to participate in a skill-building project offered by
Stories For Hope Rwanda has been busy and active in our new mission to help young orphans use their new hope to fuel new opportunities ! Here’s our report:1/A group of Stories For Hope participants assembled at our office in Kicyuro to speak passionately about their experiences to a group of officials from the District of Remera, and the Ministry of Immigration. Several were young women and orphans. The meeting was private, of course, designed to give SFH participants a chance to be frank and honest. Afterward, we heard this is what the officials took away:
2/We have achieved our Registration in the District of Remera, using this long process to study our own organization, and commit to finding new ways to help our participants use their newly found hope to drive their economic situations upward. We continue to believe that “hope is not a business plan” and new optimism must be met with new opportunities for training and education.
Beginning this summer, in a renewed partnership with Never Again Rwanda, we will offer skill training to new participants, and to a core group of our alumni.
3/Our Director, Patricia Pasick, continues our involvement at Agahoza Shalom Youth Village, in Rwamagana. ASYV is an orphanage for teenagers. Dr. Pasick is helping train mental health staff in trauma and grief counseling, and helping the executive team design a follow-through evaluation.4/ Tambo Nelson, in-country manager, is spending a lot of time at The National Archives of Rwanda (NAR). NAR has received our CD collection of dialogues, and is working with us, and The University of Michigan, to create a special exhibit of Stories For Hope, one that features a multi-user listening station for ordinary citizens to use, as well as scholars.
That exhibit will open on September 6, and a special reception for past participants and staff will be held on Saturday, September 8.
A NEW 2012 REPORT from a series of extensive evaluative interviews of 7 participants has helped us know more about WHY Stories For Hope is being helpful to youth in Rwanda, including girl orphans.
Not asking questions of parents and elders is a common experience in Rwanda where, traditionally, children are 'seen and not heard.' Post -genocide social tension and the high level of trauma in Rwanda made these pre-existing gaps between the generations much wider. Elders don't want to pass on their own trauma to their children; children don't want to re-traumatize elders by asking for their stories about 1994.
WHAT YOUTH SAY HAS CHANGED
“I feel that people care about me.”
Orphans, especially girls, often feel like at the bottom of the rung in an adoptive family, or adript in society, as if they deserve to be there. It's especially uncomfortable asking questions to help calm fears and provide guidance. After participating, young orphaned females say they feel less alone, and more confident in trying to improve their lives through work and education. Being able to discuss how they are treated leads to affirmations by elders that they need not feel shame for their situation, and opens the way for ongoing mentorship and sponsorship.
“I feel bolder about asking questions which I once feared asking.”
A Stories For Hope dialogue gives young people direct permission to speak with elders, who have also agreed in advance to share stories about culture, personal experiences, and the past. Youth still use proper cultural conventions (not making much eye contact, letting elders speak first, expressing gratitude for the stories), but having a facilitator present and a set of guidelines for talking, helps overcome fears.
“Now we talk freely, and I talk to others.”
Young women and men participants feel a door has been opened for them to continue conversing with their elders, and this 'open door' has widened to include other members of the community.
“My peers come up and ask me questions they are afraid to ask.”
New information from elders leads some youth to feel like learning more about Rwandan culture and history, and some are becoming local junior historians. Other ways to get this information have been unavailable, like a history curriculum (still being revised at the Ministry of Education).
“Before I was using drugs, and just seeking pleasure. Now I see how I must act for the sake of my country, and my family.”
After hearing from elders about the 'proper' ways of living in a post-conflict society, young people have a firmer platform from which to decide how they want to behave. A moral education from elders who feel dispirited and marginalized from society, has been lacking.
“ Since my elder spoke and treated me like a member of society, I have some new hope and new plans for how I will raise funds for my education.”
All these changes in the relationship with an elder engenders youth with new purpose and confidence, to think more positively about their individual futures and the future of the Rwandan nation.
Reflective time was rare on this 17 day trip for Stories For Hope, and its new initiative, Life's Melodies.
A little like the many women and children in the fields, bent completely over their bean, potato and cassava plants, the work was constant. Not for survival, like they are, dawn to dusk. Not on the giant and gritty hills, nor the dense banana trees and sugar cane plants in the narrow valleys, or on the narrow pathways trod by men carrying grass, wood, bananas, and white sacks of potatoes.
In Rwamagana, I worked with Donna, Zoe, Carol, and Chad on the literal ground, and in the small meeting rooms of organizations trying to improve life in Rwanda. Carol and Chad taught business skills to 48 students in a large classroom off the dining hall of Agahoza Shalom Youth Village, designed for 500 orphans.
Donna, Zoe, and I held workshops for mental health staff in a small conference room at the yellow-painted Health and Wellness Center at ASYV. They are in charge of 500 orphans Long sheets of white paper dotted the room, titled "Narrative Psychology, Ambiguous Losses, and Caregiving Burnout." I had long conversations with Sonia, the Director, after how to help orphans make the transition out of the Village next year, and keep them connected with elders.
I counseled students in the dark, sitting with a boy with severe ADD on some rocks and ledges ("why does my mind wander so much in physics class? Does it mean I'm crazy?") and a girl grappling with PTSD ("Is it unhealthy to skip hearing genocide testimonies in April?").
In Byumba, at Eglise Anglican au Rwanda, with a Rwandan team comprised of Tambo, Sam, Veronique, Bernard and Bishop Emmanuel, I presented our research findings to 17 stakeholders with two pairs of former participants, and did some strategic planning to scale up Stories for Hope, along with Sociotherapy into the Gicumbi District.
Zoe spent a day collecting more intensive interviews from six young people. Donna darted between our little bedroom with massive mosquito net and sparkling white bathroom with no running water, and Sam's modern office with computers and printers.
Back in Kigali, Zoe and I with the Rwandan team, Tambo and Elissam, worked feverishly to convert our Stories For Hope audio tapes from 95 WAV dialogues into mp3 files, and assemble them into a collection for the National Archive, where we delivered it on Thursday. I met with the new Minister of Youth, Sports, and Culture, Protais Mitali,and set Stories For Hope on a new course for more widespread implementation.
On the next to the last day, I interviewed four youths more extensively about their survival stories, hinted at in their SFH dialouges. Two of these youths have forgiven the perpetrators of their relatives and wounds, and do small kind things for them. (Hyacenth: "I see him in the market, and sometimes give him small things. Better than to store anger and harm myself like he harmed my father")
I came away with more questions than answers about how genocide happens and reconciliation is possible. At the end of 17 days, I remain committed to passing on to these young people's admirable beliefs, their amazing qualities of mind and heart, and many talents, like Nadia Hyacenth arising every day with determination, and finding hope in humanity.
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