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Revisting the Rwandan genocide

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genocide talk

Grace M. Speck, a genocide survivor, discusses the horrors of genocide and the important role of women in re-building Rwanda in the aftermatch of the genocide (Photo by Madeleine Newby-Estrella)

The past four weeks, a seminar on the conflict in Rwanda has taken place in Brothers College 101. Put together by Darfur Resettlement Coordinator and member of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide studies Joyce Reilly, the seminar was open to the Drew community and surrounding public.

Last year Reilly traveled to Rwanda and was asked to conduct a seminar on the conflict resolution currently taking place. Reilly felt the issues in Rwanda were unique, saying, “It’s a very small country and they’re doing everything out in the open—it’s an astounding situation.”

All four sessions drew 20-25 people, the second session bringing over 40 people. Alexandra Saper (’13) attended three of the four discussions, saying she’s always been interested in genocide and conflict. “I’m thinking about writing my thesis on the reconciliation process going on in Rwanda and these seminars have given a lot of information you wouldn’t get from government reports.”

The seminars have also attracted seniors from Livingston High School. High school senior Marla Topiol attended all four seminars after her holocaust and genocide teacher asked if anyone wanted to learn about Rwanda before covering the genocide in class. “It’s really interesting. I can’t get my head around some of the issues discussed, but I wanted to get ahead before we started learning about it because I’m not familiar with the conflict in Rwanda.”

The first week of the seminar was focused on the history of Rwanda, from the ancient times to colonial times, and ended with the genocide. Pictures and geographical information on Rwanda were displayed to give participants a better understanding of the country. The second week Eugenie Mukeshima, a survivor of the genocide, came to talk about her experience and why she believed it happened.

The third week present-day Rwanda was discussed, along with what is being done to rebuild the country, through NGO sectors and commercial sectors. This week genocide survivor Grace M. Speck shared her story with the audience, focusing on how women are a vital part in rebuilding the country and government.

After surviving the genocide with her four children, Speck held a few different jobs in insurance and government assistance. It was during her job with a women’s organization that helped poor rural women earn incomes to support their families that Speck realized how important it was for women to be involved in resolving Rwanda’s conflict. Speck said, “It’s very important for the women to be involved in peace-making. The women are the ones who suffer and have to struggle with raising the children.”

Speck worked with the organization in helping change Rwandan law to enable belongings to be divided equally between men and women. Before this, men were the only ones who could have control over belongings and money. Women had no access to anything if they didn’t have a husband or son.

Speck attended conferences through the organization and began to notice that peace was “talked about at a higher level, but it wasn’t discussed in relation to a majority of the population. People need something to help them deal with conflict—they couldn’t work together. There were divisions between perpetrators, survivors and everyone in between,” she said.

Speck was approached by the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont. They told her if she wanted to learn more about conflict management training she could apply to the institute, and in 2005 she began her studies and became involved with Oxfam, a peace building program that focuses on working with literate and non-literate women.

They were the first program to train women in conflict resolution and have given Speck the tools and resources to train women in Rwanda who often have “a lack of self confidence since they’ve never been to school. They’re smart, but they don’t know how to read or write.” Speck’s program has trained 40 women in each province of Rwanda for two years.

Educating women is what Speck believes is the first step in helping resolve conflict. “Women are more for forgiveness, reparations and bringing two sides together to talk about problems and resolutions,” she said. She believes if women are educated, they will be able to educate their children and give them constructive messages as to why genocide happens and an understanding of why hate has no place in problems between different interest groups.

“It’s bad history, not talking, and keeping divisions that leads to conflict, and women are the ones to take the first steps in resolving these problems. We can learn to work together to find the cause and then prevent it from happening again.”