by Melissa Lesage, Country Manager, Rwanda

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2015 kicked off with a bang as we hosted our first Drama-Based Education group in partnership with Buffalo State University and the Anne Frank Project. Preparing this program has been really exciting and in fact, hosting the delegation has turned out to be a life changing experience for me.

The Anne Frank Project began in 2009 and uses storytelling as a vehicle for community building, conflict resolution, and identity exploration. The initiative was first launched when Professor Drew Kahn incorporated the story of a Tutsi girl surviving the 1994 Rwandan genocide into a theatrical production of the Diary of Anne Frank.

This was the third group of students travelling to Rwanda through Buffalo State University, but it was the first time that the group formally engaged in drama-based education. This program provides teachers with the tools to immerse their students in the curriculum through physical engagement, so that students may better understand and remember what they have learned. How many of us have been bored in class waiting for a lesson to finish? On the other hand, how many of us still remember the lessons given by a teacher who made us sing, dance and play? Drama-Based Education can be applied to any subject, which is what makes it so incredibly exciting for both teachers and students. The delegates worked with Rwandan academic staff, teachers and students to demonstrate for them how incorporating drama into their teaching model could help students develop skills for conflict resolution, research purposes, community building and critical thinking. The response from both the teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. At first, some participants were a bit nervous and reserved, but they quickly opened up and jumped right in, engaging in the training with energy and focus.

On top of working with schools, the group also visited some of the country’s memorials and other educational and cultural sites. One particular visit will remain etched in my memory for many years to come. One afternoon, we visited a community service camp known as Travaux d’Intêrets Généraux (Community Service Work, or TIG) in Gikomero, about one hour from the capital city, Kigali. TIG is a program in Rwanda that allows people found guilty of participating in the genocide to serve all or part of their sentences doing community service work. After introducing ourselves and discussing a little bit with the prisoners, they began singing and dancing and we started singing and dancing with them. The police officer who was with us also danced with them. It was a real moment of unity brought by music and dance, and it reminded me of how incredibly far Rwanda has come in the last 20 years. We often hear about forgiveness but personally, it took me four years to realize what forgiveness truly means and to see how powerful the act of forgiveness can be. I will never forget the image of the prisoners, the police officer and all of us singing and dancing there together.

Anne Frank once wrote that “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”. It is this sense of universal humanity that Anne Frank has taught us to look for in the world around us, and that we witnessed during this program in Rwanda.