And It Begins…

Project Rwanda 2012 started with a bang today.  Our CUNY students met for a lovely breakfast at the hotel Civitas.  At around eight we started our brisk walk to the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) facility.  Our journey took us by the National Stadium.  There were large amounts of military personal rehearsing for this weekend’s Independence Day celebration.  Rwanda celebrates their independence from Belgium on July 1st.  It is an exciting time to be here.

We were met at the entrance to KIE by a large group of students.  Four of our group had met these students before but by the affection displayed by the KIE students an outsider would not be able to tell who knew whom.  I felt as though I belonged to a family of scholars.

I would like to take a moment to let everyone reading this blog know that I am aiming to give an idea of the entire group’s experience.  I will undoubtedly slip into personal experience.  I am writing from my point of view.  We have had a group check in this evening and I was able to hear everyone’s experiences from the day.  I will now start with a mixture of my reactions and the reactions of my colleagues.

As I have mentioned already, the affection shown by the KIE students was not only my experience.  My colleagues also spoke about how friendly, warm and welcoming the KIE group was today.  We were greeted with hugs and hand shakes.  Social media has allowed many of us to “meet” each other prior to our encounter here in Rwanda.  It was a great joy to find that Kadish and Kristy were the same person.  After our greeting we (KIE and CUNY) gathered together in a large room to start our day.  Leon introduced us to the chair of the Literature department at KIE, Emmanuel.  It was a great honor to meet one of the people so involved in bring our group to KIE and allowing us this great opportunity of shared learning.

We started our day with getting to know each other.  I am not the best with names.  So our name games were very helpful.  I am also very thankful for the nametags we were all wearing.  Another highlight of the morning was a small group discussion between the KIE and CUNY students exploring why we chose to study drama.  For two groups from two different societies located halfway across the world from each other the reason that drew us to drama were amazingly similar.  Family influence (my brother introduced me to theatre.  One of the KIE students spoke of his brother introducing him to drama as well), alternate ways of communication, physical expression of imagination and desire to bring about social change were all inspirations to study drama from both groups.  Does this mean that these two groups can really be one?  Is that not the goal of this project?  Of this work?

After lunch KIE 2 and KIE 4 broke into groups.  My class worked with KIE 2 and Joey and Michael worked with KIE 4.  I’m sure Joey and Michael will have much to say about their process but for the remainder of this entry I will talk about KIE 2 and CUNY final year students’ exploration of forum theatre.

For some of the readers of this blog forum theatre may be a new concept.  It is a form of theatre created to explore social issues seen by the participants as incidents of oppression.  We began our devising process by finding out what some of this issues were as offered by the KIE students.  Many of the issues dealt with gender roles in society.  Chris mentioned in one of his earlier blog entries about street football where women are the only players that can score.  Rwanda is the only country in the world that has a majority of women members in parliament.  Sheila (who commented on Chris’ post) will be interested in knowing that women’s roles in society seem to be a very fresh topic.

After finding out what the KIE students wanted to work on we began the devising process on three separate forums.  Ramy and I are working on the denial of education to some people in society.  We created three images (a beginning, middle and end to a narrative) and then worked on our first scene of the forum piece.  Everyone shared the work they created at the end of the day.  The images were all dynamic and the scenes left me wanting to know more of the stories.  Tomorrow we will work on finishing the forums and come Wednesday we will see what the “finished” product is.  I put the quotation marks around finished as one of the main goals of forum theatre is to change the outcome of oppressive incidents in society.

This is Bennett signing off for the night.  My sense of bewilderment is giving way to a sense of belonging.  This work aims to build community.  I am awestruck by the community that has already been built here at KIE and I am honored to be here and be a part of furthering that community development.

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3 Responses to And It Begins…

  1. CarolSandiford says:

    Bennett; I am already learning a lot from your first entry—–about the process & intent of the work your groups are doing. Look forward to hearing more about how the project you are focused on unfolds & develops.
    I heard something on NPR last week about the high percentage of women in the government in Rwanda. Know Sheila likes that!!

    Love You,
    Aunt Carol

  2. sheilajoon says:

    Bennett, I really appreciate you honoring your personal experience within the group dynamic. It’s so fascinating to hear what happened throughout the day for all, and at the same time- Essential to hear your point of view as an individual within a community, that is building a community. It seems almost emblematic of the work you’re doing. Just from 3 days of following these posts, the most consistent surprise and amazement amongst the CUNY students blogging, seems to be how warm and welcomed everyone feels. I think that is interesting as a prime cultural difference…that and yes, the presence of women in parliament and only girls getting to score goals (Wha what??! Tell us more) The art and desire to express seems to be the shared factor, but how we relate as community seems wildly different; you ‘westerners’ seem to be getting a good lesson in love and courtesy ; ) Rock on Rwanda!

  3. CJ says:

    Looking forward to reading more about the process & how this inclusivity among your hosts & team spreads! Thanks for the details!

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