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Second Generation: Educating the Children of Genocide

From left: Panelists Ed Ballen, Eugenie Mukeshimana, and Sue Lob at the Museum of Tolerance in New York.

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

Nineteen years ago this month, Rwandans experienced genocide at the hands of Hutu extremists who sought to destroy the entire Tutsi ethnic population in the country, along with Hutu moderates who refused to support an agenda of extermination. The slaughter was incredibly efficient, as more than 800,000 individuals were murdered over roughly 100 days by their machete-wielding neighbors while the United Nations and the rest of the world looked on. For Rwanda, it seemed, the promise of “never again” did not apply.

While it is impossible to compare the suffering of individuals targeted for death because of their identity, the horrors that unfolded in Rwanda in 1994 are reminiscent of the horrific and calculated destruction associated with the Holocaust in 1940s Europe. In both instances, specific groups of individuals were singled out in a systematic and premeditated manner, resulting in catastrophic death tolls and leaving behind countless survivors who have endured assaults on both their dignity and their humanity. It is this parallel survivorship that has begun to resonate with victims of both genocides, and it is a relationship that has developed and continued to grow into the second generation of survivors and victims.

On April 4, this shared experience manifested itself in an event that joined the remembrance of the Holocaust with the commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The panel discussion, which took place at the Museum of Tolerance in New York, was titled “Educational Challenges for the Second Generation and Beyond,” and featured five different speakers. As the title of the discussion indicates, the focus of the evening was on education and the imperative role it plays in helping the descendants of genocide victims and survivors understand the impact of their families’ suffering on their own lives. In this way, education can also be a tool for prevention, as it is centered on the belief that past hostilities and injustices can be overcome. As moderator Dr. Yael Danieli of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and Their Children stated in her opening remarks, the goal is to “try to prevent the transformation [of trauma] from generation to generation.”

The first panelist of the evening was Sue Lob, founder and executive director of the Voices of Women Organizing Project, whose father survived a year of internment at Mauthausen, and whose mother lived in hiding to escape the Nazi purge. Lob summarized the impact of the Holocaust on her family by referring to it as a “legacy of both trauma and resilience,” noting that her parents rarely discussed their experiences, indicating the lasting effects of what they had been made to endure. From a resiliency perspective, however, Lob affirmed that “what survivors bring to us is this real legacy of their ability to adapt,” along with a powerful sense of tenacity and stubborn will. Explaining that this was the first time she had chosen to speak about her family’s story in public, Lob concluded by offering her reasoning for finally doing so: “I didn’t want to stand by the way the world [had] stood by.”

Lob was followed by the organizer of the evening’s discussion, Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and founder and executive director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network (GSSN). She began by stating that “it sounds very strange, but we remember [the genocide] as if it was yesterday,” referencing the unspoken issues that haunt survivors as constituting a “world they live in that is inside, not known.” In particular, Mukeshimana noted how children, impoverished and oftentimes orphaned after the genocide, were faced with these adult issues, but lacked access to resources like counseling that could have assisted them. While interventions have historically focused on the first generation – that is, adults and teenagers who were alive during the genocide and directly experienced its horrors – “the second generation is turning nineteen,” and such intervention initiatives cannot be sustained unless this second generation is taken into account. Specifically, Mukeshimana mentioned that many children attend school with the children of those who murdered their parents, which provides a platform for potential problems both now and in the future. As she aptly noted, “it takes much longer to get rid of the ideology that created [the genocide] in the first place,” and concluded by stating that “we need to begin looking at the way we can support education” in Rwanda.

Ed Ballen, a clinical social worker and the founder and executive director of the Rwanda Education Assistance Program (REAP), spoke after Mukeshimana. After visiting an orphanage in Rwanda in 2006, he stated that he felt a particular connection to the place, and in 2008 started the  nonprofit REAP by opening a public school where children from that orphanage could attend classes. Expressing his adherence to the notion that “education is a fundamental human right for all children,” Ballen explained that REAP’s mission is to enrich the environment to learn for these kids. This is accomplished through a five-pillar approach, comprising community, engagement, education outside the classroom, health and well-being, and the environment. Ballen also noted a few challenges that the REAP faces, such as a lack of clean drinking water for students, and the fact that most pupils have a long walk to and from the school each day. Teaching also poses problems, as a teacher in primary school only has a high school education, and is often devalued in society for having chosen that career path. Yet Ballen is hopeful, saying that “when I feel overwhelmed, what keeps me going is holding on to the face of the children of Rwanda. I can see the hope.” He concluded by echoing this sentiment in a paraphrase of Levinas, saying that “our ethical behavior begins with the human face” of the Other.

After Ballen was Barrett Frankel, the development and communications manager of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), another education-based organization that serves Rwandan youth. Specifically, ASYV offers 500 Rwandan youth a holistic living, learning, and healing community, which they are a part of for four years. The mission of the organization is to help students realize their maximum potential, as well as to cultivate a sense of social responsibility, so that each student might become an “educator and an investor in the generation.” The main axioms of ASYV are the focus provided on the individual student, formal and informal education, health and wellness, and education on other genocides, such as what occurred in the Holocaust and Bosnia. In addition, Frankel talked about how instead of punishing students for misbehavior, ASYV has developed a “DNA” approach, which stands for discussion, negotiation, and agreement. As she explained, “life is about repair,” and the most important lesson one can learn from the incident is to understand the consequences of an individual’s actions on the whole community. In this spirit, Frankel also emphasized giving kids a voice, and instilling in them “the power to think for themselves, well beyond their four years” at ASYV.

The last panelist, Dr. Racelle Weiman, is the director of Global Education and Professional Training for the Dialogue Institute at Temple University. She also serves on the GSSN board, and underlined the importance of empowerment – that is, “how to help people help themselves.” In particular, Weiman promoted the ownership of Rwandans and all survivors of genocide in finding their voice and sharing their story, and that in doing so they should be cognizant of their audience. In other words, she asked, “What is the story that you want them to tell?” and repeatedly emphasized, “You are your own voice.”

Perhaps a few words from Dr. Danieli best capture how important education can be for survivors and the prevention of repeated trauma. As she states, education “must be embraced and contained within a healing environment” – “you don’t want successful people who can’t manage their heart.” Thus, the greatest opportunity education might provide is the chance to envision life differently, in harmony with one’s community, and in recognition of one’s individual agency to write a future that is different from the past, so as to ensure that “never again” means what it was always intended to.

Photo: Eugenie Mukeshimana

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This week’s Guest Preventers on the AIPR blog are Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman, codirectors of the 2010 award-winning film The Last Survivor, which follows the lives of survivors of four different genocides—the Holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, and Congo—as they struggle to make sense of tragedy by inspiring tolerance in a new generation. 

From very early on, our goal was to make a film about genocide that left the audience with a feeling of hopefulness and optimism—that there was something they could do to end this tragedy. Now we are working with a coalition of groups to bring The Last Survivor to communities around the globe, spark dialogue about how to prevent genocide in the future, and bring much needed support and attention to the most vulnerable communities of survivors and refugees around the world.

As filmmakers, we believe the most effective way to raise awareness and, ultimately, to prevent genocide is by listening to and supporting the people directly affected by it. Too often, refugee and survivor communities are neglected by the genocide prevention movement, so, as part of our film’s grassroots campaign, we are working to bridge this divide by connecting refugees with anti-genocide activists in the United States. We hope this will help foster personal relationships and provide opportunities for activists to get to know the people they are advocating for, who are living in their own communities. If we learn from each other’s experiences, we can become a stronger force speaking and acting out against genocide.

We hope that you will consider joining us in this effort by bringing the film to your community so your friends and neighbors can learn about these atrocities and hopefully get inspired, like we did, to do something about it.

Everyone has personal reasons for getting involved in the movement to prevent genocide. These are ours.

Michael Pertnoy, founder and executive director, Righteous Pictures

When I was 18, I had the opportunity to journey to the concentration camps in Poland on a program called the March of the Living. Up until that point I had learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and in many ways it was overwhelming—thinking about the statistics, seeing the horrific pictures and graphic film footage, I felt helpless. But as I walked arm in arm with the Holocaust survivors from my home community, marching through the death camps into the gas chambers, the focus was no longer on the millions of lives lost, but the power of those who had survived; those who had passed through the worst that the world has to offer and emerged with something to give to the world—a renewed sense of purpose, an obligation to provide a firsthand account of one of history’s darkest times, and to share their story so future genocides could be prevented.

On that trip in 2002 I made a promise to the survivors that I would carry on their legacy to my generation and beyond. In 2006 I returned to the camps. By then, the genocide in Darfur had been raging for more than three years. Over 300,000 people had been killed and millions displaced. And I wasn’t even aware yet of the violence in Congo and the other nations around it. It was after this trip back to the camps, as a recent college graduate, that I decided to get involved with the growing anti-genocide cause that was mobilizing across the United States. It was the confluence of these experiences that birthed The Last Survivor, and the rest was history.

Michael Kleiman, cofounder and creative director, Righteous Pictures

My grandmother on my father’s side and her three sisters fled Belgium to escape the Nazi occupation in World War II. I remember hearing stories about how the four of them were hidden in the back of a pickup truck and smuggled out of the country to the south of France, where they hid in a barn for six months before escaping to Portugal and then the United States. I grew up with these stories.

When I was a junior in college, a friend of mine told me in passing about the genocide in Darfur, which had been going on for three years at that point. I was taken aback, not only by the horror but by the fact that I’d never heard anything about it. I considered myself politically aware at that time—mindful of the world around me. So I did what any film student would do: I picked up my camera and made what I now consider to be a terrible short film about the genocide in Darfur and its absence from the news. I always wanted to do more, so when Michael came to me with the idea for a film about genocide survivors, I jumped at the opportunity.

Discussion Paper #5 published by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme is “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Dr. Edward Kissi of the University of South Florida. The paper looks back at atrocities perpetrated against the Jews during the Holocaust to draw lessons from them for the prevention of future mass atrocities, especially in Africa.

Looking at the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, Kissi concludes that a state seeking to commit mass atrocities will generally succeed in doing so, and that society’s responses to the killings tend to be tepid. The key to preventing future genocides, he believes, is to get bystanders to do more than just stand on the sidelines and watch. And the three areas Kissi focuses on in this paper are early warning, regional and local initiatives, and education.

One way to do this is to closely monitor volatile situations that have the potential to devolve into genocide. Civil and ethnic conflicts—as well as related phenomena such as hate speech, demonization of target groups, and massive migrations of particular groups—are valuable warnings of future mass killings, since perpetrators of mass atrocities often use war or domestic power struggle as cover for their actions. Leaders who plan mass atrocities often look at past genocides and emulate their rhetoric and tactics, believing they will go unchallenged because past perpetrators of mass killings were not stopped. Kissi points out that hatred and prejudice sparking violence, while often targeted at ethnic or religious groups, may also be directed at groups defined in other ways, such as sexual orientation.

Kissi goes on to discuss the importance of the Responsibility to Protect and the practical means of achieving it. He notes that outside actors, such as the United States or the United Nations, have not had much success in preventing or intervening in genocides, especially in Africa, and that smaller initiatives led by neighboring countries and subregional organizations have a better track record in implementing rescue missions and civilian protection. Empowering civil society, especially local and community leaders, to speak out and exercise their traditional authority against hate speech and other warning signs of genocide may also help to build a local culture that does not condone mass killings.

While international actors can play a role in helping to develop these capacities, Kissi argues that local and regional initiatives, rather than international intervention, may be better suited to implementing the Responsibility to Protect. At the same time this may prevent perpetrators of mass violence from hiding behind criticisms of neocolonialism and accusations of meddling by foreign powers.

Another important component of building capacity to prevent future genocides in Africa is educational programs grounded in examining past atrocities like the Holocaust. The point is to teach children about respect and toleration so it is more difficult for them to accept prejudice against and dehumanization of other groups later on, encouraging them to be more than just bystanders if mass atrocities break out again.

Photo: The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme

This week’s Guest Preventer on the AIPR blog is Daniel J. Gerstle:

Inspired by my experience as a former humanitarian aid worker and rights advocate, I now produce creative humanitarian media about how people survive war, disaster, and other extreme adversity. Part of my work is documenting the story of local and traditional violence prevention initiatives in war zones, which are often ignored by the press and left out of peace negotiations.

There are tremendous fears that the vastly different claims on where Sudan’s north–south border might lie, along with the threat of more violence in Darfur and growing rebellion in the Nile valley, will continue to threaten peace in central Africa and lead to more violence for years to come. What can a regular person living around the world do to stop it?

As founder and editor of HELO Magazine, a new organization that produces creative humanitarian media by, for, and about aid workers, rights advocates, refugees, and musicians who support them, I’ve gathered a team ready to answer this question.

Darfuri reconciliation expert Suliman Giddo, filmmaker Lucas Gath (Sins of My Father, ShootingPoverty.org), photographers Brendan Bannon, Michael Marquand, and Ala Kheir, motion graphics artist Ruslan Shukurov, musician alSarah, students at Ahfad University for Women in Khartoum, and many more are staged to help HELO create a visually stunning, interactive, virtual Sudan in which we will place short films that document local violence prevention initiatives along the frontlines. Each short film found within the virtual Sudan will offer a menu of options that viewers can take to act on what they saw: debate, donate, sign a petition, plan a trip, and potentially correspond with the people involved in the initiative.

We’re in the fundraising stage for traveling to Sudan to complete filming right now. The formal online fundraising campaign begins in the next weeks, but in the meantime we would love for people to help us cover the costs of travel and production by checking out our new Sudan Mosaic Video Teaser and reading the instructions below it which explain how to support our cause. You can also check out the other literary journalism, opinions, culture, and music stories we offer on other countries at HELO Magazine.

Much of Sudan has great potential for peace and prosperity. Many Sudanese who live on the frontlines have incredible ideas about how local and national disputes can be resolved. But for some reason, the international community, diplomatic envoys, and governments tend primarily to invite those with guns to negotiation tables. Wouldn’t peace talks be more successful if they were dominated by local violence prevention innovators instead? At the very least, Sudanese violence prevention innovators could use more press.

Daniel J. Gerstle is founder and editor of HeloMagazine.org; executive producer at Sudan Mosaic Interactive Media Project; and an independent consultant on humanitarian aid, human rights, and media.

A German court has ordered FDLR militia leaders Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni to stand trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on Congolese territory, AllAfrica.com reports. Murwanashyaka, 47, and Musoni, 49, were arrested in November 2009 and indicted in December 2010 for 26 crimes against humanity and 39 war crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Rwanda. Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende commented: “This is a very good achievement for the peace process in the Great Lakes region since the trial of these criminals will send a strong signal to those willing to go ahead with their diabolic projects in both the DRC and Rwanda.”

Over 100 people were killed in days of fighting in Sudan’s hotly contested Abyei area, while thousands have fled southward away from the carnage, Time magazine reported. The article discusses the recent referendum where South Sudan decided to succeed from the North and whether or not this fighting will signalize the “moment it all starts falling apart.”

Joe Olzacki, director of performing and visual arts in Bloomfield schools, will testify at a public hearing before the legislature’s education committee in support of a bill that would require Connecticut high schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.  The Hartfield Courant noted that only five states—California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York—mandate that schools provide genocide education. Olzacki  commented: “Today’s kids don’t know what ‘never again’ means.”

Photo: Reuters Africa

Preventing Mass Atrocities: an Agenda for Policymakers and Citizens is a booklet compiled by the Prevention and Protection Working Group, chaired by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The booklet is an excellent resource, covering topics like early warning, diplomacy as the first line of prevention, international action, and security assistance in great detail. Access the entire booklet here, or access separate chapters here.

In 2008, the Stanley Foundation published a briefing memo titled Funders Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect. The foundation brought together key actors in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) community to provide an overview of the principle, reflect on recent developments, and begin discussion on best next steps. The memo summarizes their findings, with the role of civil society specifically assessed concerning education, research and global advocacy.

Photo: Roosevelt Academy

The Stanley Foundation has published a policy analysis brief titled “Mass Atrocities and Armed Conflict: Links, Distinctions, and Implications for the Responsibility to Prevent,” by Alex J. Bellamy.  The document analyses atrocity prevention through a common prevention agenda.  For anyone interested in genocide prevention, it is definitely worth a read!

The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach programme has also published Discussion Paper #5, “The Holocaust as a Guidepost for Genocide Detection and Prevention in Africa,” by Edward Kissi. The paper focuses on remembering and drawing lessons from the crimes committed against the Jews during the Holocaust so the world can “prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that state public school guidelines can exclude materials disputing that the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century constituted genocide. This decision, reported in the Boston Globe, is seen as a victory for Armenian groups, even though the Assembly of Turkish American Associations had argued that removing the references prevented students from learning more than one view.

Foreign Policy Magazine, and their online blog Passport, discussed the Ivory Coast, focusing on the escalating situation and the issues of genocide definition and military intervention.  Hirondelle News Agency also reported on the current cases being heard in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. They also drew attention to the first German trial in relation to the 1994 genocide.  The accused, Onesphore Rwabukombe, former mayor of Muvumba (eastern Rwanda), is charged with “ordering and coordinating three massacres” committed between 1990 and 1994.

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