Hello GlobalEd Readers,
During our recent practicum course to Rwanda, Kroc School students and I visited a variety of social enterprises as well as genocide memorials and museums. Students were either from the Masters in Social Innovation program or they were working on one of the different master’s degrees we offer in peace and justice studies, or conflict management.
One highlight was spending a Saturday morning at the Rukundo Foundation located in Kigali. Rukundo is registered as a nonprofit both in the US and Rwanda.
Amani Simbayobewe started Rukundo several years ago. Amani (which means peace in Swahili) was himself a child living on the streets and gave himself this name since he wasn’t sure what his actual name was. After living on his own in the streets of Rwanda for several years, he received help, and later found himself fortunate enough to graduate from secondary school and then obtain a bachelor’s degree. Amani decided he wanted to help children who were in similar circumstances to those he had experienced. With considerable support from his American friend Debbie Buck, the Rukundo Foundation was born. I visited with Amani about 3 years ago and at that time it was only himself and a few friends who volunteered their time. They were selling custom-made backpacks and tablecloths among other items in order to raise money to support the children.
Rukundo Foundation Staff with Kroc School Student Tabitha (far left) and Amani (far right)
On this visit, it was obvious the Foundation has flourished. Rukundo currently serves about 45 children and now has several full-time employees – including the woman pictured about who is from the community and serves as a social worker. The Rukundo Foundation provides assistance in finding a family for a child to live with. They connect with schools and help pay school fees. In schools in most African nations, books, other materials, and uniforms cost extra and many families can’t afford them; this can lead to children dropping out of secondary school. So, helping to support children by paying their school fees can make the difference between them staying in school and dropping out.
The ten of us arrived around 9 am. The building was small (a former home) and although located in the capital city, it’s a bit off the beaten path. The roads were not paved and our van driver had difficulty driving up the hills (…there’s a reason they call Rwanda the ‘land of a thousand hills!’). Amani sent a youth to direct us from the main road and after some maneuvering, we were able to enter the gate onto the premises.
For a few hours we played several games together. This was truly enjoyable and allowed us to learn the children’s names and a bit about each of them. Then we all met inside and two children shared their stories and we asked questions of the staff. As is frequently the case when confronted with vulnerable youth telling their stories, several Kroc students later shared with me their discomfort with children sharing their intimate stories with outsiders. This is not unusual. Nonprofit organizations walk a fine line: on the one hand they need to allow recipients of services to share their stories but if not handled carefully, it can border on exploitation. In this case, I do not believe so. These children rarely have outside guests and although their stories brought forth emotion, they seemed to want to share and, perhaps, hopefully, it felt cathartic and/or they felt validated. I observed that by the time this session was over, everyone was smiling.
How does a nation develop economically and socially after the devastation following the loss (28 years ago) of over 1 million people due to genocide followed by cholera? How many women were raped and bore children? How many children ended up on streets throughout the nation? How many people lost their entire families?
Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung, talks about positive peace. Positive peace is defined as a more lasting peace that is built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions as well as societal attitudes that foster peace. He has written that it can be used to gauge the resilience of a society.
I’m glad that Amani gave himself a name that means peace. Rwanda needs to be a resilient society in order to avoid violence in the future in order to achieve positive peace. It is organizations like Rukundo that will help to build sustainable institutions, change attitudes and foster peace. And meanwhile, children are finding joy as they play and learn.
Thanks for reading!
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Galtung, J. & Fischer, D. (2013; 13th Ed.) Johan Galtung: Pioneer of Peace Research
New York, Springer Publishing