Peacebuilding en Las Américas

Inter-Initiative Connections: Peacebuilding en las Americás Coordinator Visits African Great Lakes Initiatives in Rwanda

by Mónica Maher, Peacebuilding en las Americas Initiative Coordinator

It was fabulous to have a chance to visit David Bucura, Friends Peace Teams Initiative Coordinator for the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), in his home country of Rwanda from 18-24 January. I am deeply grateful to Friends Peace Teams for supporting the proposal that I travel to Rwanda from Ethiopia, where I had an international human rights meeting, as part of an organizational direction toward greater Inter-Initiative Collaboration within Friend Peace Teams.

The visit far surpassed my expectations. The energy and commitment of Rwandan colleagues from urban Kigali to rural villages across the hilly countryside filled me with admiration, renewed hope and a deep sense of global connection beyond what I could have imagined. The collective joy in being part of this work overflowed in lively songs and dances of welcome and thanks, with spontaneity and ease, generating delight and new energy for all. It is obvious that Friends work in Rwanda is vibrant, deeply appreciated and touching many lives to transform entrenched economic poverty and inter-generational trauma post-genocide.

Reflections

It was great to see David in his setting to appreciate more deeply his work, his ministry, his commitment, his humanity. He is clearly deeply loved and appreciated as both a solid, spiritual, honest, dependable, dedicated person as well as supervisor for many. Seeing David in the United States at the Face-to-Face Gatherings does not compare to seeing him in action among so many colleagues. I was amazed at all that he had going on, and the calm, focus and kindness with which he approached the tasks. As with the reputation of former US President Obama (No Drama Obama), so it is with David whose life and work is marked with obvious grace and seasoned ease. No question to one who accompanies him that he is following a leading; this work is his vocation, his ministry.

As with David, so too with those Friends and colleagues around him; they are deeply dedicated to the work which fills them with life, a collective sense of purpose and satisfaction. I was delighted to be able to travel to the Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) Center in Musanze to meet Director Solange Maniraguha, and Accountant Devotha Mukayiranga, as well as HROC graduate Seth Cyiza. They overflowed with energy and enthusiasm for the new center, still under construction, and for the marvelous impact of the work. Seth glowed describing how he puts his new skills on non-violence and mediation into practice as a teacher at a local high school where he used to be Head Master; he is a real leader: confident, humble, devoted to his students.

In Byumba, I was particularly struck by the young male team working on the Conservation Agriculture Project, led by Brian, all so professional, creative and committed to their work with farmers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women. They exhibit a palpable sense of excitement about the work and its clear results in helping secure communities greater food security and prevent malnutrition and disease.

The success of the Conservation Agriculture project has empowered women farmers and created a reaction in their husbands, often resistance and even abuse. To remedy this, the team has incorporated a project component on harmony in the household in order to teach the non-violent resolution of conflict and encourage participation and support of spouses. Apparently this addition has been very well received, with participants immediately asking for more. This project is a great example of how to do rural development work in an integral way, teaching conflict transformation skills within a holistic approach to dealing with violence, both structural (economic) and interpersonal (domestic).

Friends Peace House in Kigali also exhibits this integral approach to peace and development work. The Mwana Nshuti Vocational Training Center is on the grounds, offering opportunities to underserved youth to learn culinary arts, hairdressing, mechanics, sewing and construction. When I asked whether mechanics was only for boys, and hairdressing only for girls, Friends immediately told me three girls were taking mechanics and two boys hairdressing. It is great to know Friends are offering youth opportunities according to their callings and skills, not limited to traditional gender roles.

The collaborative nature of AGLI work is striking. Planning and implementation happens in close connection with other peace and development organizations. In fact, there is a building within the Friends Peace Garden compound which houses the offices of all organizations which receive funding from the Mennonite Central Committee; they have formed the Peace and Development Network. David´s office is in this building. Thus, AGLI is intricately connected on a daily basis with other peace workers with an ongoing opportunity to share successes, challenges, and create synergies.

AGLI also works collaboratively with local governments. Municipal authorities, for example, suggest the sites for the Conservation Agriculture project, and local leaders attend the closing celebration of the 3-month course, making village visits to see the results of the work and offering congratulatory speeches to 150 students at graduation.

A great symbol of the happy and dedicated spirit in Rwanda is Head Master Vianny Mudumizi of the George Fox School in Kigali who claims he loves teaching, children and Friends, so his work is a perfect fit. When I met him, he was comforting a four-year-old girl who was crying, afraid to be at school for the first time. His work is his vocation, way beyond an administrative task. As with so many Friends and friends of Friends in Rwanda, Vianny responds with human compassion in the face of daily pain and suffering, reaching out with kindness to comfort others. Not a job, but a calling, a passion, a love.