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| Author: Martin Stolk

BLOG: Working against Violence

Rwanda was the proud host of the second international MenCare+ partnermeeting in May 2014. This year the “country of a thousand hills” is commemorating that two decades have passed since the genocide took place. It is hard to comprehend that in this beautiful, friendly and peaceful country approximately one million people were killed within one fatal month in 1994. After the brutality Rwanda had no option but peace and forgiveness.

The work of MenCare+ partner RWAMREC – the Rwanda Men’s Resource Center – contributes to this peace movement according to founder Fidele Rutayisire. “With our focus on gender equality and preventing violence against women, RWAMREC also contributes to preventing violence in society.”

MenCare+

MenCare+, the partnership between Promundo-US and Rutgers involves men in achieving gender equality and preventing gender-based violence. The programme connects closely to Rwanda’s desire to reshape its sense of solidarity from the community level. During the MenCare+ partnermeeting Rutgers and Promundo-US worked together with partners from Brazil, Indonesia, Rwanda and South Africa to exchange results and learn from each other how to be even more effective and successful.

Memorial

Some international MenCare+ colleagues made the Genocide Memorial Center their first destination after arrival in the Rwandan capital Kigali. The memorial center includes an impressive exhibition showing how and why the genocide happened. Outside in the memorial park a cemetery contains several mass graves. “This is my third war and genocide monument after Cambodia and Nepal,” says Andreas Susanto of Rutgers Indonesia. “It is very impressive how quickly after this crime against humanity Rwanda has it eyes on peace.” The many genocide memorials around the country are more than a place of mourning, they generally also offer peace education. All to ensure that the genocide will not be forgotten and will never happen again.

Running for Peace

Sunday morning 18 May the streets of Kigali are filled with runners. It is the Tenth Kigali International Peace Marathon. Two rounds of 21,1 kilometer with many tough hills. William, a Rwandan in his early thirties who is running a half marathon, is full of chatter and waves at friends. He explains why he joined the race. “Some people run for competition, but most people do it for peace and progress. There is always a special solidarity between runners.”

Girls, Boys and Babies

Musanze is small town in West Rwanda. The borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda are both one hour by car on the winding roads along the omnipresent hills of Rwanda. Nothing is flat in Rwanda and on all available ground people grow food. The fields are right to the top of the hills.
This provincial town is the centre of one of twenty regions where MenCare+ is active. Here RWAMREC works with groups of young men and girls, and also with couples that are expecting their first child. A perfect place to show MenCare+ partners from Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa how well the programme is running in Rwanda. As it is sometimes difficult in other countries to recruit men to participate in the counseling and support groups, Rwandan men are eager to join the groups.

Young girls

In a community building on a rough road thirty young girls and moderators sing, dance and talk about their lives and challenges. “The exchange was very open,” says Kerryn Rehse of MOSAIC from South Africa. “In Rwanda you remain a girl until you are married. This has nothing to do with your age. The girls were very curious and asked us whether we have children, and how we can live with our boyfriends without being married.”

Young men

A few streets down the road  a meeting is taking place of a group of young men. The twenty young men are much older than the girls. “This group has an amazing dynamic,” according to Giovanna Lauro, vice-director of Promundo-US: “The men told us they did not know you could actually plan your family. The fact that they and their girlfriends could work on their careers first, and decide about having children later, really opened their eyes.” However outspoken the men are, there was still some shyness around the issues of love and sex.

Fathers

Twelve young couples that are expecting or just had their first child tell about their experiences in the father groups. During the fifteen sessions the young or expectant fathers are joined by their wives twice. Two fathers are holding their babies full of pride. In the Rwanda culture this is very special. “When fathers hold their children people are quick to say his wife has bewitched him,” Edouard Munyamaliza of RWAMREC says. 
 
“It is not about what you say, but about what you do,” according to one of the proud fathers. “We are the role models. As long as we show how to be different, others will follow.”
 
“These stories are truly inspiring,” says Dianda Veldman, director of Rutgers. “I am impressed by the men that are carrying on calmly despite being ridiculed for doing women’s jobs.”

Martin Stolk

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