Project Rwanda: Drama and Theatre Education for Reconciliation and Development

Project Rwanda: Drama and Theatre Education for Reconciliation and Development was conceived as a multi-year program whereby faculty and students from the MA in Applied Theatre at the CUNY School of Professional Studies travel to Rwanda to assist Rwandan students and teachers in acquiring interactive, applied theatre skills. The twin goals of the Project are: (a) to develop the use of theatre and drama strategies as educational tools to help promote unity and reconciliation among Rwandans, and (b) to create job opportunities by building applied theatre troops; first in schools and colleges, and later in the professional, cultural milieu.

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Year One 2010

Phase One of the project was conceived as a pilot phase and implemented in July and August 2010. It was an unqualified success. Students and faculty from both Institutions were enthusiastic about the potential for on-going collaboration.

Year Two 2011

In Phase Two, students from the CUNY MA program took responsibility for shaping and implementing an introduction to applied theatre for the KIE freshmen. They facilitated 8 sessions that illuminated many aspects of applied theatre work and generated a great deal of interest and excitement. The faculty team worked intensively with second-level students to develop skills and deepen understanding of the range and potential of applied theatre practices. The culminating event was a lecture demonstration, led by Professors White and Vine, that incorporated an interactive applied theatre performance based upon the traditional tale "The Drummer", which tells a story similar to "The Pied Piper of Hamlin". This group creation saw a combined cast of 49 KIE and CUNY students working together in a cross-cultural, bi-lingual performance that took the college by storm. The final highlight was the first ever applied theatre professional development workshop for in-service high school teachers. The workshop was particularly notable for the mentoring role that a group of the KIE students stepped forward to fill.

The Kigali Institute of Education made an official proposal to form a partnership with CUNY/SPS to deliver ongoing student education in applied theatre through a series of annual visits from SPS faculty and students. It is hoped these will lead to opportunities for Rwandan student education and KIE faculty development in New York City.

Year Three 2012

Phase Three built upon the objectives, content, and structure of Phase One and Two. The objectives of Project Rwanda: Phase Three were to:

Year Four 2013

The fourth visit of the CUNY SPS team to KIE occurred at an important watershed for the KIE drama program. It was the final year – and last weeks before graduation – of the first-ever KIE cohort of drama students in the Department of Humanities and Language Education. This first group of KIE students had participated in Project Rwanda in 2010 and every year since. These students had just completed their final year teaching placements in Rwandan schools. They returned with many stories of their challenges and achievements. Overwhelmingly, they were excited by what they had accomplished and what they discovered they had learned in the past four years. Theirs was the job of  explaining, demonstrating and justifying pedagogically, to the school principals they encountered, the value of the work. A number of these principals were initially skeptical of the value of drama but had been won over to the methods and value of the work performed by these pioneer Rwandan drama educators.

The CUNY SPS Project team was well equipped to document the fruits of this first full cycle of instruction, and its own part in its success over the past three years. For the first time, in 2013, a third faculty member, Professor Amy Green, accompanied Vine and White, with the specific intention of investigating the impact of Project Rwanda thus far. She interviewed students and faculty, and both observed and contributed to the ongoing work. Linda Ames Key, an alumna of the SPS Program, also joined the team. She had first visited as a student in 2011 and was able to return under the auspices of the Fulbright Program, from which she had won an award. Her presence helped facilitate an expansion of the work across all four of the KIE year groups, and supported the senior years in an impressive performance and workshop – entirely student-led – of a devised piece exploring prejudice and segregation.

The CUNY students, eight in number, worked to great effect with KIE Levels 1 and 2, demonstrating a range of forms including process drama, Theatre of the Oppressed forum theatre, and playbuilding, followed by helping the KIE students to create and perform their own TO forums, interrogating relevant Rwandan social issues.

Woven into this busy schedule were a number of workshops led by White and Vine, exploring stagecraft for creating and performing original work, and facilitation skills for using it to promote dialogue and critical thinking amongst audiences. These explorations were put into practice through the culminating experience of creating an original performance based upon the story of Sleeping Beauty. The story was framed as a meditation on revenge, punishment and forgiveness. The KIE and CUNY students created and performed the piece together, presenting it on a double-bill with the senior students’ companion piece, for an invited audience of faculty, fellow students, local high school students and two representatives from the US Embassy. 

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the renowned Agahozo Shalom residential high school for Rwandan orphans. Level 4 KIE students hosted the CUNY party, and were eager to share a performance they had devised for the school based upon principles and processes they had learned previously from the Project. The CUNY students were also asked to present some work and shared an interactive forum theatre (Theatre of the Oppressed) performance dealing with sexual harassment. The two performances generated a great deal of excitement and debate amongst the audience, and helped to further cement the working relationship between KIE and the Agahozo Shalom School, opening opportunities for student internships and potential later employment.

As always, important features of the trip for the CUNY SPS students were the cultural visits to important national heritage museums and genocide memorials. These are powerful reminders of the background and context of the work of KIE, and the small but significant contribution of Project Rwanda, as the country continues to rebuild its educational capacities.

Year Five 2015

In 2014, Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) became part of the University of Rwanda as its designated College of Education, with prime responsibility for training the country’s teachers.

The CUNY SPS Project Rwanda team was unable to visit Rwanda in 2014. However, the work continued to develop thanks to the initiative of two former MAAT graduates working under the auspices of the International Theatre and Literacy Project (ITLP) at the Agahozo Shalom School.

Returning in 2015, Phase Five of Project Rwanda will continue the cycle of development established in previous years, focusing on pre-service drama teacher training. The CUNY SPS faculty and students will work with 79 Rwandan students from across all four year groups. The CUNY cohort will design and implement an interventionist model of theatre for development (TfD). This will include:

Project Team

The project team is composed of faculty and students from the CUNY School of Professional Studies. Professors Helen White and Chris Vine will lead 12 students from the M.A. in Applied Theatre program. Professor Amy Green will return to continue her research into the impact of Project Rwanda. Coordination of the project in Rwanda will once more be assumed by Jean de Dieu Musayidizi, Head of Drama for the Rwandan Broadcasting Agency (RBA) and UR adjunct faculty, and Léon Mugabe (Faculty of Education), working in consort with Dr. Ahimana, the Head of Department of Humanities and Language Education, and Dr. Niyomugabo, Dean of School, University of Rwanda, College of Education.