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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