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Project Rwanda Past Years
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, bilingual 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:
- Implement introductory training in applied theatre theory and practice to the new KIE freshman class
- Implement a second level training for the 24 KIE students worked with last year
- Implement a third level training for the 24 KIE students now going into their final year
- Create and present applied theatre performances, in which KIE and CUNY students perform publically together
- Provide lecture demonstrations to explain methodology, foster understanding, and garner support
- Offer a training workshop for in-service teachers drawn from regions across the country
- Work directly with young people, giving opportunities for KIE students to reapply strategies with guidance and support, and
- Make appropriate cultural and educational visits to develop the understanding of the Rwandan historical, cultural and social context among the CUNY/SPS students and faculty.
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 the interim period, between visits in 2013 and 2015, KIE had been fully integrated with the University of Rwanda to become The University of Rwanda College of Education (URCE). However, this development had no tangible effect on the Project. Of far more significance was the new, alternate year schedule, and the fact that for the first time since the Project began in 2010 there had been a two-year break in activities. As a consequence, there were two-year groups (the incoming classes of 2014 and 2015) with which the MAAT had never worked and a much larger pool of Rwandan students for whom the MAAT pedagogy and practices were unfamiliar. This was compounded by faculty changes, most notably the departure of Professor Elizabeth Spackman, who had previously led the drama course after the untimely death of Professor Stephen Buckingham. The MAAT and Professor Spackman had established a strong rapport with a useful convergence of working methods and content helping to provide continuity from year to year.
The longer break between visits also meant that more CUNY SPS students were wanting to join the Project, some after graduating as there had not been an opportunity before, and others, at the end of their first year of studies, mindful that there would not be another visit before they left the Program the following spring. This resulted in a CUNY SPS party of 12 students, with three faculty members, White, Vine and Green. Professor Green was also, once again, pursuing her research initiative. On the URCE side, there were 71 students to work with on a daily basis, together with requests to meet and work with alumni. These changes necessitated a reassessment and restructuring of the curriculum in an attempt to meet the needs of the large number of participants.
The deployment of the MAAT students as leaders of multiple sessions for the Rwandans helped to meet the new goals of applied theatre infusion to the larger number of participants. Working under the guidance of White and Vine, they rose to meet the challenge, leading sessions that exposed the Rwandan students to aspects of group theatre making, process drama, and Theatre of the Oppressed. They also facilitated the Rwandan students in the creation of their own Theatre of the Oppressed forum theatre models and, finally, worked alongside the students as both co-intentional assistant directors and fellow actors, in the creation and performance of the now traditional joint, culminating production. This year, the play, created in two days with a cast of over 80, was based on the traditional folktale, The Magic Calabash, an African story with striking similarities to Jack and the Beanstalk! As in past years, the material was chosen and adapted for its strong content, suitable for treatment as a learning play (or “lehrstück”). Its themes include greed, betrayal, revenge, and the destruction of the environment. The play was performed for a large, invited audience that included other UR students and faculty, alumni, community artists and classes of school students.
To support this ambitious program, White and Vine led daily master classes exploring theatre skills for creating and performing original work, and facilitation skills to encourage dialogue and promote critical thinking amongst theatre audiences, as well as supplement general classroom teaching practices.
Following the first successful visit in 2013, students from CUNY and URCE once again traveled together to Agahozo Shalom residential high school for Rwandan orphans, where both groups performed examples of their work. This is the school where graduates of the MAAT had teamed with Rwandan alumni of URCE (formerly KIE) and Project Rwanda for three years in a row to offer the high school students a summer playbuilding experience. (This past summer, 2016, the MAAT alumni were unable to return to Rwanda. In an exciting development, new leadership of the project at Agahozo Shalom was therefore passed to two of the Rwandan ‘graduates’ of Project Rwanda.)
An important component of the trip for the CUNY SPS students is always the cultural visits to important national heritage museums and genocide memorials. These help to contextualize the work of Project Rwanda and serve as a powerful testament to the achievements of a nation that was so recently devastated but has rebuilt with courage, dignity, and pride. It both puts into perspective and underlines the value of education, creativity, and collaborations such as Project Rwanda as the people continue to develop their potential.