Although the program was just shy of a month long, Global Youth Connect left delegates little time to enjoy the Rwandan countryside. Except for one week that was set aside for delegates' internships, every day was programmed – the first half of each day was reserved for workshops on human rights, while the second half was occupied with special speakers and site visits. Delegates visited the offices of the Ministries of Gender and Family Promotion, Justice, and Genocide Prevention. Additionally, the delegates were taken to four of the seven genocide memorials, and visited local Rwandan development organizations. Kristin and Brittany formed part of a delegation of nearly thirty young professionals and students, almost evenly split between native Rwandans and international delegates from all over the world.
Internships, though brief, provided an exceptional look into post-conflict justice and reconciliation in Rwanda. Global Youth Connect functioned as an umbrella organization, placing delegates with various affiliated organizations in Kigali. Kristin interned with the Village of Hope, a village for children whose parents died in the genocide. Interestingly, the Rwandan government did not create the village. Instead, post-genocide, orphaned children who were not necessarily biologically related came together to form families. According to Kristin, "government essentially supported the movement by building homes and providing education, supplies, and psychological support. Of course, adults check up on them, but the project is about respecting the children and how they are dealing with it [the genocide], as well as honoring what they're doing. I really loved what they were doing." During her week with the organization, Kristin undertook a photo project with the children in the village, who were tasked with taking photos of objects or people that elicited an emotional reaction from them. It was the ideal project for delegates, as it was quick enough for delegates to delve in, but could also be further developed by later delegations.
Meanwhile, Brittany interned with three other delegates at Rwandans Allied for Peace and Progress (RAPP), a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on encouraging income generation, HIV prevention education, and anti-discrimination programs. With her delegation, Brittany visited a long-standing refugee camp sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) comprised of both Rwandans who fled the genocide and Congolese fleeing violence in the Kivu. Brittany states, "This was such an eye-opening experience. You have 'temporary' schools that have been in place for nearly two decades, and entire generations growing up in these camps with very little to no security." During her time at the refugee camp, Brittany's delegation participated in educational RAPP plays about hygiene and sex, and developed a funding proposal to provide the local youth center with a new generator. GYC provides up to $1,000 in grants for projects proposed by each visiting delegation, giving delegates a great opportunity to tangibly impact local conditions. Brittany notes, "GYC's goal with these projects is not to solve problems entirely. It's about making a point, about putting money where your mouth is, essentially leadership by example, which I thought was really important with so many NGOs in Rwanda."
Naturally, Kristin and Brittany's experiences profoundly impacted the ways in which they had previously conceived of justice and reconciliation. As Conflict Resolution students, Kristin and Brittany passionately debated between themselves about the usefulness and long-term value of Rwandan president Paul Kagame's approach to justice and reconciliation. Under Kagame's repressive rule, the "Rwandan identity" rhetoric is pushed heavily, revealed in the fact that discussing ethnicity is outlawed. New school textbooks do not mention the genocide, and yet Brittany states that "you can't talk about ethnicity, but the genocide is still very much in your face." For Brittany, this situation was a "powder keg waiting to explode. Many issues are not being addressed because you are not able to talk about the genocide." Conversely, Kristin says, "I saw a positive side to the propaganda. It is undertaken to prevent a future genocide. By developing a consciousness among citizens that they are all Rwandan, you prevent them from psychologically reducing one another." Despite their difference of opinions, both friends agreed that Rwanda today is a model of progress and has become one of the safest and secure countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Both students highly recommended participation in Global Youth Connect's internship programs, and remarked that it is ideal for students who have never traveled to sub-Saharan Africa and would like to do so within a structured, secure program.
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-- Ambar Velázquez