Rwanda: Day 5

This morning, I watched the sun rise over the hills of Rwanda. It was one of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen in a long time. It was a perfect way to start the day. At breakfast, I sat with a new friend, Lydia. Lydia is one of our partners from South Sudan who is traveling with us. She and I shared stories about and pictures of our kids and as we walked together to our morning Bible study, I learned a bit about the conflict in South Sudan and a great deal about what a strong woman of God Lydia is. Dear ones back in the United States, our problems are tiny and our faith is anemic. 

Bible Study

In morning Bible study, we spent time in Genesis 41:9-36. In this passage, Joseph is called form prison by Pharoah to interpret some dreams. In this passage, Joseph shaves and cleans up and gets new clothes. Clothing is a symbol of status in this story, so in Genesis 41, what we see is Joseph moving back up in status. 

Dr. Kazayuki Sasaki

Dr. Sasaki, a Japanese lecturer for PIASS, talked to us about “Fostering the Network of Peacebuilders in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.” Dr. Sasaki is the head of peace and conflict studies at PIASS. He opened by sharing a bit about how he wound up in Rwanda. He spent time in Ethiopia working for a hunger aid program. His experiences there led him to focus academically on peace and rebuilding. As a result of this, he wound up in Rwanda. He was shocked by the massacres that had happened in a “Christian” country. 6 years after the genocide, when he first came to Rwanda, you could still smell death. People were still walking around like “ghosts”. At first, he had trouble finding a supporting agency for his mission work because in Japan, he said, “mission work” meant “planting churches.” But he was able to make his place here and is doing incredible missionary work, having planted no churches. 

Dr. Sasaki is the head of the Department of Peace and Conflict studies (DPCS) at PIASS. This department includes the PIASS Peace Club (PPC) and the Center for Research and Action towards Sustainable Peace & Development (CRASPD). (I have learned that Rwandans really love acronyms – just like Presbyterians.) DPCS has four main goals in its curriculum: transforming values, developing knowledge and skills, gaining experiences of working together, and overcoming prejudice and building trust. 

There are four main approaches to peace: peace through law/institution, communication, non-violent action/will power, and cultural and spiritual transformation. Some (Funk, 2002) include a fifth approach to peace: coercive power. The DPCS program teaches students these various approaches and engages in exploring them in the world and culture around the students. The main features of the program are: participatory and interactive learning, learning practical knowledge and skills, hand on experiences (including an alternative to violence program, a theater for peace workshop, and a peace journalism workshop), learning from practitioners, learning from the people on the journey toward reconciliation, learning from grassroots projects in the area, experiential learning, and learning things as they practice. Some of the challenge for DPCS include recruitment of lecturers and students, financial challenges, and figuring out how to talk about sensitive issues.  Moving forward, they hope to improve the quality of education, start a master’s program, build a network of peacebuilders, work with graduates, and enhance research projects. 

It is a challenge to find financial support for students of PIASS. While the cost of tuition is approximately $1500 for the three year program and $1800 for room and board, $3300 is a huge expense for most people in this part of the world. Their church and mission partners are key to helping keeping PIASS going and helping to provide scholarships for students. The PC(USA) is currently a partner of the PIASS.

We talked a bit in group discussion with Dr. Sasaki about commemoration in Rwanda and how healthy that is for the country and its people. He said that there is both value and caution that must be noted. There are important mental health considerations. Remembering is good, it’s healthy. But being around a perpetrator when you are a survivor can feel unsafe. Politically, commemoration is important.  Some perpetrators are uncomfortable with commemoration, but many celebrate it in solidarity with the survivors. The first step to healing for Rwanda was to commemorate in ways that made it impossible to say that the genocide never happened. This step is when graphic images of the violence were prolific so as to ensure people knew exactly how terrible it was. The next step was to remember it in the context of remembering and celebrating the lives of those lost. Finally, it is moving into a time of remembrance in the light of healing and reconciliation.

The way we remember changes through the healing process, but remembrance remains important. 

The Protestant Institute for Arts and Social Sciences Center for Research and Action towards Sustainable Peace and Development (PIASS CRASPD)

We met with the staff of CRASPD after talking with Dr. Sasaki. Moriane Niyungeko is the peacebuilding officer for CRASPD. Serve Muvunyi is the assistant coordinator, and Anne Dietrich is the International Peace Advisor. The talked with us about the education, research, and community services that are offered by the program. 

One such program is the Nyanza Project. Similar to the Light Group we met with the other day, the Nyanza Project is a group of people overcoming boundaries to be with one another in community. This group is made up entirely of women. Some are widows of genocide, the others are wives of imprisoned perpetrators. These women work together in a flower garden, a book cover making project, and more. They all celebrate commemoration together and recently, the widows went with the wives to visit the husbands in prison. 

One thing that stood out to me about this presentation was the passion and energy coming from people who weren’t even born yet or who were just babies in 1994. This is something that happened before their personal memory, and yet they are still so very committed to helping their country heal from it. They remind me in many ways of the brave young people fighting for reasonable gun control in our own country. 

After hearing from the CRASPD staff, we heard form some students who are involved with the program. Chanice from Burundi, Annik from Rwanda, and Ralph from Burundi talked about the benefits of being in the program and how much they love life at PIASS. 

The Second Half of the Journey

Tomorrow, we will go to a Kinyarwandan (the native language in Rwanda) church service and to another genocide memorial. Monday, we will move on to travel to Kibuye for the last leg of our trip. Friday, Tom and Martha will say farewell to Rwanda and my family will join me here to move on to explore the wildlife here and in Uganda, as well as catch up with our friends in Kampala about what they doing for justice and peace there.