Peace Teams News, PO Box 10372, San Antonio TX 78210-0372, Tel: 877 814 6972







SPRING, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 1

Engaging Peace: from vision to program in Rwanda by Stephen Collett

The Friends Church in Rwanda (L’Eglise Evangelique des Amis au Rwanda) began on reconstruction even as the ashes were still settling from the Rwandan holocaust of 1994. In that year more than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed in a genocidal wave orchestrated by a radical Hutu leadership in government, churches and civic institutions like radio stations. Then, in the returning wave, a Tutsi-led army supported by Uganda killed an unknown number (estimated by impartial observers at 25,000-60,000) in retaking the country. None of this was new, but rather a replay of a drama that had run throughout the last half of the 20th century in this country and its neighbors, primarily a product of their manipulation by colonial and neo-colonial powers, and more recently by entrenched political interests.

The Friends Church, unlike many of the larger churches in Rwanda, had not been tainted by partisanship in the conflict or implicated in the violence. They experienced losses, to be sure, as victims of both sides. I have heard from Church members how one lost ninety-six members of his family (a Hutu) and from another of the loss of his wife and children (a Tutsi). Many Church members put themselves on the line to save lives where they could. A story is told of how a young Friend chatted up and distracted a vengeance-hungry corps of the Tutsi army—some of the soldiers his former school chums—while out of the back door of the church, under the guise of moving furniture for the Friends’ missionary team, other Friends packed innocent Hutus into their truck and drove them to safety.

Following the holocaust the Friends Church moved quickly to bind and balance the two ethnic groups within their membership. The Quaker schools have worked to reintegrate the children, and Church leadership has been chosen to be both representative and inclusive. Rwandan Friends were able to take advantage of the blossoming of seminars and training on issues like post-trauma counseling which were offered by UN and non-governmental agencies in the first years following ‘the crisis,’ as they refer to 1994 and ‘95. While their introduction to these themes was useful, Friends program leaders felt that the experience of a course alone was not giving them enough tools or support to launch programs of their own and to make a long-term contribution to peace building, as they felt called to do.

This was the situation in 1996 when African Friends met in Uganda at the FWCC Mission and Service Conference. This conference was lifted up by the message that Friends felt a new call to peacemaking in Africa, and Friends agencies from other continents were invited to join them as partners and sponsors in peace work.

Rwandan Friends committed themselves to work at several levels simultaneously to help bind the wounds of their violence-riven society. As an attachment to their schools program—which includes elementary through college—a program was started for abandoned children found by the dumps and on the streets, bringing them into a day program at the Friends Church center in Kigali. Children who are able to attend school are outfitted (uniforms required, backpacks de rigeur) and have their school fees paid to get them back into the public school system, and those who have missed too much to catch up are given vocational training in sewing, farming and animal husbandry.

In another program, the Friends Church has given counseling and support to widows in camps for displaced people, gathering them from their lonely lean-tos (most sheathed in the blue plastic of the UNHCR) and helping them to organize in a potato growing cooperative, to hatch a budding idea for a credit cooperative, and to seize the precious mutual support of sorority.

Friends also turned their attention—at the other end of the social spectrum—to preparing its membership to participate and lead in the national democratization and reconciliation process that had been promised by the political parties in the new unity government. By 1998 they had partnered with Quaker Service Norway to begin training in their fifty-six churches in the skills of community building, conflict management and reconciliation through the Change Agent Peace Program (CAPP). Skilled trainers in these themes have been found within the Rwandan peace movement and from Mennonite Central Committee. Members of the wider communities, local government officials and civic leaders have gradually been included in these training programs and will form an increasingly larger portion of seminar participants as the program now moves into its second stage.

In stage two, called ‘going out the door of the Church,’ Friends have been given responsibility for peace-building activities of the Alliance of Protestant Churches in the country. Again with the help of the MCC, a Peace Center is being opened in downtown Kigali which will serve as offices for the Alliance, their national women’s program and offices for the Center’s directors from the Friends and Mennonite Churches. The Center will have a peace library and a large reading and gathering room, along with a ‘peace café.’ When this stage is realized (they are cleaning, painting and furnishing the building at this writing) the Change Agent Peace Program will have evolved into a national program of the Alliance, providing peace training to community groups, schools, churches and civic institutions (including radio stations) nationwide.

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