Dialogue for Peace: Arts-Based Approaches and the Growth of MAP Dialogue Clubs in Rwanda
Arts-based approaches to fostering dialogue have been increasingly used in peacebuilding efforts to advance reconciliation and healing in countries emerging from conflict. In Rwanda, Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) has promoted the inclusion and active participation of youth in national peace programmes since 2018. To this end, MAP has adopted different arts-based methods that facilitate two-way communications between youth and local stakeholders on the one hand, and youth and policymakers on the other. This blog looks at how this has developed and how MAP is currently growing its dialogue clubs in the country.
In peacebuilding practices, dialogue is a long-term process that seeks to resolve, to transform, and to prevent underlying tensions and violence caused by complex layers of conflict between two or more parties (Bohm 1996; Bourquin 2003). It can be applied to address both intra- and intergroup disputes (Feller and Ryan 2012; Sternberg 2018). According to the Cambridge Dictionary (2021), ‘dialogue’ refers to ‘a serious exchange of opinion, especially among people or groups that disagree.’ Over the past decades, peacebuilding practitioners have focused on the use of dialogue to reconcile communities in different post-conflict settings (Aarbakke 2002; Dessel and Rogge 2008; Zartman 2008; Stearns 2018; Komlossyová 2019; GPPAC 2019).
Dialogue focuses on establishing trust, sharing personal experiences, and building skills in active listening. It allows individuals to discuss the past events that continue to live in people’s minds and bodies. These moments of personal storytelling can support the process of individual and group healing, reconciliation, and trust-building among former parties in conflict. In the course of time, dialogue alongside conflict analysis can provide knowledge and understanding regarding the root causes to conflict (Musafiri 2013; Wallace et al. 2014; Davis et al. 2019; IRDPa 2020). Exchanges within the group can contribute to awareness of existing prejudices and stereotypes to rectify misinformation or to deepen the understanding about other individuals or groups (Komlossyová 2019; IRDPb 2020). Through dialogue, groups might also come to agreement concerning how to communicate to each other and to mediate future problems (Arai 2015). To succeed, dialogic activities are usually tailored to the cultural background of the target community (Bourquin 2003). Arts-based methods for dialogue range from locally grounded interactive theatre plays, songs, dance to wall paintings (Mitchell et al. 2020). However, while dialogue can be quite constructive, it is not an easy art.
Community Dialogue in Rwanda
In Rwanda, dialogue has been applied for more than 20 years to reconcile and to unify the country after the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 (Bagilishya 2000; Brown 2008; Clark 2014; UNESCO 2019). That traumatic event left deep wounds that are still felt within society. Everyday peace demands efforts from all parties – victims often live side-by-side with their perpetrators who may be a family member or neighbour. Many people – survivors and perpetrators – also suffer from symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder (Munyandamutsa 2012; Specia 2017). Several individuals struggle with mental health and/or a disability (Petroze et al. 2015) that affects the entire family, including children and youth (Rugema et al. 2015).
Under such circumstances, healing, reconciliation, and trust-building are difficult to achieve. Moreover, building a nation for all Rwandans requires an equal participation of all groups of society, particularly children and youth who are growing up in the aftermath of genocide (Pells 2009a; 2009b). However, it is them – the next generation – who are often not treated as equal members within the decision-making process.
Despite their marginalization, it is notable that children and youth have increasingly taken up leading roles in conflict transformation and prevention through in- and out-of-school clubs. Equipped with the necessary skills and tools, children and youth have proven their ability to positively influence peaceful conflict mediation and co-existence at school, within their families and the wider community (International Alert 2019; IRDPb 2020). The creation and functioning of dialogue clubs have been supported by national and international organisations that have seen the key role the next generation could play in bringing sustained peace to Rwanda (e.g. Aegis Trust et al. 2017; Benda 2017; International Alert 2019).
IRDP’s Dialogue Clubs
Since its foundation in 2001, the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) in Kigali, Rwanda, has established dialogue clubs throughout the country to promote reconciliation, social cohesion, and conflict prevention on a local level. People get the opportunity to reflect about Rwanda’s future, particularly regarding co-existence and the use of their dialogue club to inform policymakers. Moreover, these clubs offer a space for youth and adults to come together to advance intergenerational dialogue (UNESCO 2019; Karuna et al. 2019; IRDPa 2020).
IRDP’s dialogue club meetings happen at least two times each month. The clubs are usually composed of up to 30 members of varying ages who were affected differently by genocidal violence, or who took different stances towards it. Hence, club participants might include female and male survivors, returnees, youth (descendants of survivors, orphans, and those born out of rape), bystanders, and perpetrators. Most of the time, these clubs emerged upon the expression of interest by community members themselves. According to IRDP’s staff observations, it is the pro-active, self-initiating communities that have been more open to engaging with distinct arts-based dialogue approaches.
The dialogue exercises in the clubs are facilitated by community members who took part in the IRDP’s training on open dialogue and observation techniques. In this training they also learn ways to give feedback to individuals who have finished an exercise, as well as skills and tools on how to create appropriate conditions for sensitive topics (i.e. safe space, respectful language, comfortableness). During the initial phase of each dialogue club in the villages, IRDP staff applied a participatory action research approach to identifying suitable local trainers based on their performance in awareness sessions on dialogue and related activities. By selecting and training local people, the IRDP sought to build sustainable structures for dialogue clubs and to transmit knowledge and skills to more remote areas in the country.
To date, IRDP clubs have developed into well-established hubs for dialogue that bridge the communication gap between the grassroots and the regional and national levels through continuous meetings during the year. In these encounters, community leaders take the opportunity to address issues of concern that require regional and/or national support. Additionally, the National Listening Session provides the possibility for community leaders, civil society organisations, and policymakers to discuss ongoing measures for peacebuilding, look at potential challenges for their implementation and for attaining a sustainable peace, and exchange stories of success and lessons learned.
The Emergence of MAP Clubs
IRDP’s experiences with dialogue in Rwandan communities, the incorporation of youth, the use of participatory action research, as well as the integration of arts-based approaches have led to a partnership with MAP in 2018. As part of its main objectives, MAP has sought to grow youth-participation in peacebuilding initiatives, and to introduce diverse arts-based practices as a tool for conflict transformation and prevention. To achieve the first objective, in 2019, MAP and the IRDP decided to accelerate the involvement of children and youth by setting up 25 MAP clubs in collaboration with 25 Rwandan schools in five districts (Huye, Gicumbi, Rubavu, Kicukiro, and Rwamagana). This initiative was part of the AHRC Follow-On Impact project entitled Ubwuzu: Shaping the Rwandan National Curriculum through Arts led by Principal Investigator (PI) Ananda Breed.
The ‘MAP Clubs’ evolved from a series of workshops with schoolchildren, teachers, and local artists that promoted youth-led and participatory arts-based methods for peacebuilding (Breed et al. 2018; Breed 2019). During the sessions, pupils and educators engaged with a combination of local and regional art forms (e.g. bleach painting, Umuduri music, traditional songs, dance) and MAP’s methodologies (participatory art exercises and games) to enhance the development of youth leadership. The sessions also invited participants to reflect about creative two-way communication channels between schoolchildren and teachers but also between youth and adults in general. Other methods, like storytelling and plays grounded in Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ (1974) provided a space for participants to share challenges and to consider solutions through conflict analysis. To assure the sustainability of MAP Clubs, MAP also offered training for youth facilitators and educators (‘MAP master trainers’) on dialogue and peacebuilding carried out by and for children and youth. These trainings created awareness about a diverse range of arts-based methods, including mobile filmmaking – introduced by the renowned Rwandan filmmaker Eric Kabera – and audio recording of poems on mobile phones. The series of trainings and workshops in 2019 ended with the organisation of MAP youth camps to promote creative discussions through the use of interactive drama and storytelling. Some of the issues identified became the basis for policy briefs drafted by youth that were then delivered to representatives of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), UNESCO, and the Rwanda Education Board (REB) during a stakeholder event focusing on Arts-based Methods and Digital Technology for Peacebuilding during the time of COVID (August 2020).
Arts-Based Training for Growth
In 2020, as part of the MAP Network Plus project, Co-Investigator Dr Eric Ndushabandi (Executive Director, IRDP) and Victor Ntezirembo (Project Coordinator, IRDP) have focused on the geographic expansion by linking the 25 MAP clubs and participating schools with IRDP’s dialogue clubs that were created in each of the five districts. The purpose of expanding MAP to link with the dialogue clubs was to extend MAP from in-school clubs to the community. To this end, a five-day training was conducted at IRDP from 25 to 30 October 2020 in Kigali for 25 club members from five districts (Gicumbi, Rubavu, Kirehe, Gisagara, Bugesera). These sessions were facilitated by six local MAP master trainers (originally trained by MAP’s PI Ananda Breed in 2017) and two psychosocial workers.
The training sought to familiarize trainees with MAP participatory arts methods and IRDP community dialogue methods to enhance dialogue, conflict analysis and problem solving with a focus on arts-based methods. Participants were introduced to interactive theatre techniques including Playback Theatre, Image Theatre, and Forum Theatre. Participatory exercises helped participants to express themselves through body language (Playback Theatre), to create powerful frozen scenes (Image Theatre), and to develop skills for improvisation on stage through unscripted plays (Forum Theatre).
During the sessions, youth discussed the feasibility of employing each of these forms to address particular matters of concern for community members. They also explored the potential for each form to create meaningful debates that support the process of finding solutions to maintain peaceful coexistence by identifying everyday problems. Moreover, participants reflected on their roles as facilitators and the resulting possibilities for youth to lead specific debates within their communities.
The sessions were highly interactive and practice-orientated and focused on youth and the development of their skills as central to the MAP methodology and training process. Youth were taught applicable tools to advance critical thinking in terms of conflict analysis and transformation, using exercises such as the Obstacle Tree that allows for participants to identify a problem, its root causes, and possible solutions. Throughout the course of the training, the participants gained self-esteem and self-confidence to present themselves as well as to speak to a wider audience. One youth trainer stated: ‘Before [the training] I was not skilled; I was not able to analyse a conflict or a problem. Now I am different. I am able to think about a problem and analyse it, and try to find a solution. And I can help others. Now I have the confidence. Now I can talk to a small group and large group. Now I am very confident.’
The Power of Storytelling
The training concluded with a session on the power of sharing personal stories within a group. The story circle was facilitated by a psychosocial worker who explained the healing effect of sharing that enables a person to receive support from others (either emotionally or physically) who are facing or have overcome a similar situation. Several participants expressed their feelings and concerns about family conflicts, the prevailing impact of the genocide, and poverty. For some of them, it was the first time that they had shared their story. Deep listening and the inclusion of psychosocial workers in trainings and activities is another element of the MAP methodology.
The training of MAP youth club-facilitators created a space for creativity, learning, sharing and healing. Furthermore, it offered a space for connection during the lockdown. Most participants noted their negative thoughts or feelings of uncertainty before their arrival and recognised a change of their mood over the training days. Discussions on the value of dialogic forms of performance in relation to community concerns and the practical exercises and guidance motivated the new MAP youth trainers to apply the acquired tools and skills in their communities. MAP is currently monitoring the progress.
Working towards sustainable peace requires the active and equal participation of all groups in society. The promotion of arts-based methods for dialogue to enhance two-way communications between youth and adults, especially adults who are policymakers, is a critical step in this direction. Over the next months, MAP will analyse its findings on the evolution of MAP dialogue clubs in different schools and communities. Keep following us to find out more about our work in Rwanda.
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