Article in The Rwanda Focus

The work we have been doing with KIE has been written about in The Rwanda Focus. Link to the article provided below.

http://focus.rw/wp/2013/07/theater-a-critical-tool-in-education/

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Etched On Our Hearts

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu

Today was our final day in Rwanda.  After two weeks of working, we took the day off to relax and unwind by Lake Kivu in Kibuye (roughly a three hour ride West of Kigali).  The views were incredible, and we were able to take many stunning photographs, both of the lake and the beautiful Rwandan countryside.  We also visited a picturesque church in Kibuye that was the site of a massacre during the 1994 genocide.  Although there was a small memorial to the more than 11,000 people who died there, the church still functions and runs Sunday services.

Having such a lovely and soothing last day here has made it no less easy to leave.  After only a short time apart from them, I already miss the students from KIE.  The work we did together was some of the most rewarding and exciting I have done in my life.  Although we have accomplished much, it also feels as if our friendships have just begun.  Knowing what we have been able to do and create in just two short weeks makes me yearn for more.  How much more could we learn from each other if we had just a little more time?  What could we have created in another week, a month, or more?  The talent and commitment of the KIE students has been incredible, making the possibilities for additional collaboration and learning seem endless.

Our time in Rwanda has been so rich.  The love and welcome I have felt during my stay has been immense, and it will not be forgotten.  Already, I hope for a chance to return to this place, but I cannot say for certain what the future holds.  One thing I know, however, is that the more I travel, the more I realize that I have left pieces of my heart in special places around the world—or perhaps it is the other way around; the places I have grown to love become a part of who I am.  In either case, Rwanda is no exception.  As my classmate, Dianna, said at last night’s farewell dinner/ceremony, “these memories are etched on our hearts.”

In just a few short hours, I’ll be winging my way back to America.  Despite this, I will not say that this is “goodbye.”  Whether or not we are physically in Rwanda, I think I speak for us all when I say that I know that this land and its people will always be with us.

- Brooke

Kibuye overlooking Lake Kivu

A memorial at Kibuye overlooking Lake Kivu

Peace!

Peace!

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A Final Farewell From Our Hosts

On Saturday evening we ended our busy day by attending a lovely dinner provided by our KIE hosts: it was presided over by the Vice Dean of Arts and Languages, with his Head of the Department of Literature (which includes Drama) and the Drama Subject Leader along, of course, with our dear friends Leon and Jean and the student class representatives for each of the year groups we have worked with.  Leon was MC for the night, orchestrating the many speeches that were made reflecting not only on the considerable accomplishments of the past two weeks, but the overall success of the past four years.  There is great hope here for the continuing future of the collaboration. High on KIE’s list of priorities is the possibility of one or more of its graduates joining our Program, and of some of our graduates coming to KIE as visiting lecturers. KIE looks forward to concluding an official Memorandum of Agreement  with The CUNY SPS and wishes to host Dean Peterson in the not too distant future!

Thanks to earlier CUNY student fund raising efforts, we were able to donate to KIE copies of many of the books which are part of the MA in Applied Theatre curriculum. These were supplemented by books from Chris, Helen and Matt on behalf of the Program. (Thank you Matthew for your generous contribution.) The student representatives were very excited to have the new resources, and were promised immediate access to them through the Department.  It was also mentioned that the Level 5 students are welcome to come and use the books even after they graduate!

KIE also expressed their special gratitude when they were presented with a personal collection of plays donated by Heather Lanza’s friend Lauren Schneider.  Thank you so much Lauren!

We were honored by the gifts that were given to each one of us, which went above and beyond any expectations.  The warmth we have received from our hosts is meaningful and we will all remember this important experience as individuals and as a community.

A big THANK YOU to all our Rwandan friends from the CUNY MA Students and our fearless leaders, Helen and Chris

- Eva

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Remembrances

July 20th 2013

Today we visited the Nyamata and Ntarama genocide memorials.  These memorials are distinctly different from the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum.  Both buildings lay off of dirt roads and are sites of massacres that have been kept intact since 1994.  Both of these memorials are former Catholic churches where people flocked for refuge during the genocide.

The church at Nyamata has clothes of the 10,000 victims, killed on that site alone, laid out on the pews, the ledges, and all around the alter.  The rear wall of the church is dedicated to the children who were killed there with particular cruelty, being smashed against the wall.  As you enter the church, you step over a large break in the foundation from grenades that were thrown to break into the church.  The ceiling is still riddled with bullet holes.  On the alter lies a machete and a small collection of rosary beads.  Underneath the church there is a crypt where skulls and bones of some of the victims are arranged, and there is a coffin encased in glass.  This coffin is dedicated to the women who were tortured before being killed and contains the remains of one woman who was repeatedly raped before being murdered.  In the churchyard there are now two other underground crypts where skulls and bones of the victims are held on wooden shelves.  There are 41,000 people buried at the church in Nyamata.

The church at Ntarama is smaller than Nyamata.  The clothes of the victims are hung on the walls and rafters of the church.  The bones of many of the victims are laid on wooden shelves as you enter the church.  Collected personal affects that the victims brought with them are held on shelves on the other side of the church.  There is a banner draped over the alter with a Kinyarwandan phrase that translates to English, “If you knew me and knew yourself, you couldn’t kill me.”  There is a Sunday school building behind the main churched dedicated to the children murdered there, like the wall at Nyamata.  At Ntarama 5,000 people seeking refuge in the church were killed.  The holes that the grenades put in the building have been left open.

The reality of the horror of the genocide struck me in a completely new way visiting these memorials.  It is mind boggling to imagine 10,000 people trying to fit into the church at Nyamata.  It is not a large building: it would probably only comfortably hold a congregation of a few hundred.  Yet in terror, thousands of people flooded the church grounds looking for safety.  There are not enough tears in the world to wash away the horror of what happened at these places.

Yet, even as we left the memorials we entered streets that were teaming with life.  We passed two weddings on our way back to Kigali.  I have always wondered at how in places where there has been so much death, life can still remain.  The grass continues to grow, the flowers bloom, the rain falls and the world keeps turning.  It seems to me that after a tragedy of such magnitude the whole world should stop and cry out in mourning. But the world does not stop, and people keep moving.  It may become a drop in the bucket if we let it.  Rwanda is committed to not letting this atrocity go unseen or unconsidered.  It begs the world to look and remember what happened here, and not let it happen again.

In his book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch considers that Rwanda seems an impossible country; one where neighbor turned on neighbor, and now killer lives beside survivor.  However, I am coming to believe that Rwanda is no more impossible than our very humanity.  Memorials to the genocide are scattered throughout the country as reminders, and on the drive to see them you may see small children trying to race the van with eager excitement.  In Rwanda I have seen the present-ness and immediacy of both life and death made plain for all to see.  The possibility of violence lurks on the doorstep while families rejoice over a new marriage.  Though it is sometimes easy to ignore, we all live in this tension everyday, capable of both immense love and violent hate.

About three weeks ago, when Barrack Obama visited the University of Cape Town in South Africa, he gave a speech about Nelson Mandela’s legacy.  In this speech he talked about how he wants to foster the talents and ability’s of Africa’s youth, because the world will be in their hands.  If you could have been at KIE these past two weeks and met the students we have been working with, you could see how, even after visiting sites commemorated to atrocity, I am filled with hope for Rwanda.  These young people are bright, motivated, passionate and eager to build a brighter future.

As we have said farewell to the students and the faculty at KIE there have been tears and hugs of parting.  In a great many of the goodbyes the students have begged that we remember them and tell our friends back home about them and their country.  As Rwanda asks the world to look and remember the genocide here, the young people beg us to look and see that they are so much more.  The future is indeed in their hands, and these students are the future of their country.  So please, look at Rwanda and remember what happened here; but look also at the young people and the future being built.

Dianna

KIE students celebrate their success with CUNY certificates and gifts

KIE students celebrate their success with CUNY certificates and gifts

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We Are No Longer Strangers

The Great Sleep

The Great Sleep

The Princess Awakes

The Princess Awakes

My heart is full to bursting. K.I.E., K.I.E., K.I.E., what an amazing day. Today marked the culminating performance of our two weeks working with drama students at K.I.E.  I am at once full of admiration for the work and love for the students who created it, and heart broken that this is the last day of our program together this year.

By 9:00 am the level 4 & level 5 students had scurried off to rehearse and plan their post performance workshops, and twenty-nine level 2 drama students stood ready to rehearse the fable entitled “The Great Sleep” we had turned into a play just yesterday. After two hours of diligent rehearsal, we had a strong solid piece which offered everyone involved a chance to showcase their talents. During that time, Helen kept track of the entire piece while Chris and the MAAT cohort worked with smaller groups to polish specific sections of the play. We managed a dress rehearsal before lunch and all agreed to be back after a two-hour lunch break for our half-hour call.

We were working fast, but the small group work coupled with the fact that each group had time off stage to allow for real conversations about the work and for cultural exchange between MAAT students and KIE students. In a discussion on a break today, two of the students I was working with asked me how I had “found Rwanda.” They wanted to know if I had enjoyed my time and if I had felt safe here. The answer was a resounding “yes” and as we talked about what I liked and how I’d never felt any sense of danger, one of the students asked if I noticed a lot of security guards on my trip. For the uninitiated, armed guards are prevalent along our walk to school in front of every bank and many stores, I’ve seen them around the Presidential residence, at the entrance to the stadium, by the Western Union office across the street from the hotel where we change our money, and outside the walls of the catholic school we pass on the way to KIE everyday, as well as patrolling the grounds of KIE itself. They are silent and aware, a quiet force keeping danger at bay in this land-locked country. The students asked me if I thought armed guards made us more secure. This is a heavy question for a young Rwandan man whose country was wracked by genocide only a generation ago to ask a liberal-minded American who has been raised to distrust authority. Especially when groups which follow genocide ideology lie just over the border. The three of us discussed the meaning of security and the role of guards. We agreed that security lies in the trust between people and that the threat of danger lies in hatred and fear. No guard can enforce that kind of security. True safety requires faith in the good intentions of your neighbor and rests in good actions of neighbors towards each other. Not your average dress rehearsal break conversation, but nothing about this trip has been average.

We had a successful and wonderful performance. I was extremely proud of what we had accomplished together and of the continued commitment shown by the KIE students. After we had performed, almost in answer to the conversation I had had on that earlier break, the level 4 and level 5 students performed their original piece. It told the story of an isolated town which, upon hearing that a plague was spreading throughout the land, built a wall to keep out the rest of the world. The children  in the town were curious to see what was on the other side of the wall. One day a group of hungry travelers begged to be let into the shelter of the town and fed. The grown ups refused, but the curious children snuck out late that night and fed the travelers. The traveller took the children for ransom as way of bargaining for the food and shelter inside the city walls. Torn between their fear of plague and their fear for the lives of their children, the grown ups could not decide what to do. The play ended in a stand off and the audience broke in to groups to discuss what would happen next.

The work was amazing. In addition to the power of the theme, the theater was vivid and engaging. As we moved into groups, my head grabbed onto the theme of fear of the other that permeated the piece. I could not help but think of the recent George Zimmerman verdict back in the US and the problems inherent in having a stand your ground law when a large percentage of the population is an assumed threat just because of the way they look. How can we experience true safety if we give into this irrational fear? I wondered what connections my Rwandan friends who had discussed the idea with me earlier were making to the piece. What walls do they recognize in their society that they would like to break through? Identification of racial groups is prohibited in Rwanda as a response to the genocide. The country has done more than any I’ve seen to confront the genocide ideology that shaped their recent history. Rwanda is a country with a cohesive language and culture. What protections do they need to let the rent roots of shared language and culture grow strong enough to take hold? How long can you hold an idea at bay without confronting its generation? Or, as the characters in the play asserted do “desperate times call for desperate measures?” In our small group, the audience came to the conclusion that the future required negotiation and that the bravery of the children was what was needed to begin that negotiation. If the students at KIE are an example of the bravery of Rwandan young people, the nation has a very good chance of moving into a brighter future. Already the level 5 group are using drama in schools to stimulate classroom discussion of how people chose to live their lives and shape the world around them. If the post-show discussion today was any indication of their in-class workshops, we will see great things happening here.

We ended the day with a party at a local restaurant in the market. After a week away, many of our level one friends returned for the performance and the party and we were happy to reconnect. We were happy to share this last bit of time with all of our KIE friends on this visit. Happy to have the time and sad that it marked the moment of leaving. In his book “Applied Theater” James Thompson discusses the idea of marking ones body through ritual or routine. Project Rwanda has marked us all. Embedded in our minds and bodies are lessons of theater, shared cadence, dance steps, moments of laughter, difficult societal situations we wish to change, questions about just how to apply the work, and literally hundreds of hugs.

Tackling difficult questions, discussing potential resolutions to conflict, shaking hands with neighbors, and sealing friendship by sharing a drink together — these are the traditions I have witness and experienced in Rwanda. My new friends, I applaud your dedication, your work, your intelligence and your willingness to look at difficult questions. I thank you for your trust and your generosity. You are in our hearts.

Murakoze Cyane.

Yvonne

The plague is coming!

The plague is coming!

Jumping from the town walls

Jumping from the town walls

A young audience member voices her opinion

A young audience member voices her opinion during the post-show workshop

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Play in a Day

What a whirlwind of a day.  Eva and Heather here, writing from the lovely courtyard at the Civitas Hotel – our home away from home.  Today we started with hearing a story presented quite entertainingly by the one and only Chris Vine.  By the end of the day, together with the KIE Level 2 students, we had created a play – in one day!

In the morning some of our very own KIE Level 5 drama students led us all in warm-up games.  It was exciting to see them make the theatre games their own and articulate what purpose and objectives each of the games contained. The group then broke off, Linda continuing to work with Levels 4 and 5 on their play and workshop, while we began the process of creating an original piece of theatre.  Our play is based on a version of a classic fairytale looking at a moral message about the gift of love.  In typical applied theatre style we end the play with a question.  What question?  What fairytale?  You will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

In order to create the play, the CUNY students worked together in small groups with KIE students, acting and helping to devise short sections of the story which were then tied together to create the play.  The students hung in there and contributed their passion, ideas and personalities, incorporating traditional Rwandan song and dance.  These elements help make the play come alive and provide an extra and important challenge to the CUNY students….our Kinyarwanda is improving bit by bit.

One inspiring part of today was watching the KIE students come alive on stage. Their theatre skills and performance capabilities have grown exponentially in the short time we have been here.  After a day full of dancing, singing, laughing and hard work, we are ready for tomorrow when we will hone and rehearse in the morning and have a performance in the afternoon.

As our work grows so do our personal relationships with our fellow cast members, which deepens our experience.  The reality of us having to say goodbye to our new friends is beginning to dawn.  Tomorrow will be a day of celebration, sharing and sad goodbyes.  We will focus on the work and honoring all we have achieved together.

2:00 pm Rwanda time – top floor, New Building – be there or be square (or at least send us your opening night love).

Warmly,

Eva and Heather

 Levels 4 & 5 Rehearse

Levels 4 & 5 Rehearse

Playbuilding with Level 2

Playbuilding with Level 2

 

 

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Implementing Participatory Strategies

During the past three days, while Level 2 students have been exploring Theatre of the Oppressed  methods, Levels 4 & 5 (the senior and graduating classes) have been working with Linda Key to prepare an original piece of theatre upon  which to base an interactive workshop, theatre-in-education (TIE) style. This afternoon, Wednesday, while Level 2 was enjoying its cultural exchange, Linda and I, guided them into a workshop devising process, asking them to identify the themes of their piece, the central questions they want to pose to their audience and the strategies and structure they will use. This is complex drama and pedagogical work, but these students rose to the challenges with insights and enthusiasm that amazed us. The ideas flowed fluently. They have truly understood this work and the nature of participant-centered drama practice. Tomorrow they will refine the workshop and practice the strategies, and on Friday they will present both play and workshop to an invited but uninitiated audience. It will be an ultimate test of their learning in the past three or four years!

Chris

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