Digital Arts Project Provides Vital Virtual Support for Genocide Commemorations in Rwanda

Digital Arts Project Provides Vital Virtual Support for Genocide Commemorations in Rwanda

Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide are taking part in new virtual memorial events using video conferencing platforms as organisers of the country’s annual commemorations and support networks adapt to the Coronavirus pandemic.

April 2021 marks 27 years since the start of the massacres in Rwanda that claimed the lives of approximately one million people – more than a tenth of the country’s population.

This year, commemorations will be subject to Covid-19 guidance meaning social events and community gatherings will be subject to restrictions, and that some survivors could miss out on the valuable support offered by these important remembrance activities.

To address this, a team of psychologists, community workers, artists and researchers from the United Kingdom and Rwanda have developed a series of online arts-based workshops and an online clinic to support communities during the 100-day commemoration period and beyond.

These activities are part of the Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) at Home research project. Led by Professor Ananda Breed from the University of Lincoln, UK, this is a collaboration between the University of Lincoln, University College London, Uyisenga Ni Imanzi, and the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP).

Professor Breed, said: “The MAP at Home project works with educators and young people from 25 schools from five districts (from each of the five provinces in Rwanda) that I had originally trained in the MAP methodology in 2019.

“In MAP at Home, we’ve extended previous research to partner with psychosocial workers from Uyisenga Ni Imanzi to deliver the project through combined facilitation teams that consist of educators, young people and psychosocial workers. The teams engage with members of the community who are in need of emotional, social and psychological support during the pandemic, including young mothers and former drug users.

“We have discovered that the online workshops have addressed a need for support services to be available in the home, particularly in relation to gender-related issues, connecting mental health service users with the relevant service providers.

“MAP’s arts-based approach provides a space to develop trust, to share stories, and to connect to one another during a time of social distancing.”

The workshops began in March 2021 and are scheduled to continue monthly until March next year. They offer online psychological and social support to connect those in need with mental health providers, district hospitals and local health care centres.

A participant in one recent workshop stated: “A lot of people are going through pain, going through a hard time. We are lucky to have those who can help us and to guide us. We are being equipped through MAP at Home so that we are likely to be in a position to identify problems and to help others.”

The 1994 Rwandan Genocide resulted in the deaths of approximately one million people. The ramifications of the Genocide have caused long-term mental health issues for individuals and communities. Previous research has found that approximately 25% of the Rwandan population is estimated to meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Rwanda Mental Health Survey, 94.7% of the population does not utilise mental health support.

Prevalence of mental health issues are known to increase during the commemoration period due to the sharing of personal testimonies and recollection of traumatic experiences.

The combined impact of Covid-19 restrictions, low usage of mental health support services and triggers associated with the commemoration period, led the research team to develop new approaches to provide online mental health support.

The development of online arts-based exercises via Zoom have been incorporated into the Uyisenga Ni Imanzi online clinic that will provide specialist mental health support for individuals and communities during the commemoration period. The online clinic is a nationwide service that will support in excess of 500 people.

To date, the MAP at Home project has engaged with more than 400 participants and the digital arts-based tools, which can be implemented while adhering to social distancing guidelines, have been identified by the Rwandan Biomedical Centre as a potential primary mental health service for communities.

Dative Musabyeyezu, psychosocial worker at Uyisenga Ni Imanzi and a Genocide survivor, said: “Commemoration week opens the hearts of people and they continue to remember their experience for the 100 days of the commemoration period. During this period survivors and young people come together to learn, but this is difficult as we are trying to explain the unexplainable. The use of MAP exercises is needed to support this difficult process of education and healing.”

For more information on this project, please visit the MAP at Home project website.