Rwanda, a landlocked Central African nation of roughly 10 million people, has garnered much global attention for its longstanding ethnic conflicts and subsequent violence, most notably the tragic genocide of 1994.
The two main ethnic groups are the Tutsis and the Hutus, with the latter comprising approximately 85% of the population. The inter-ethnic conflict does not primarily lie on religious and language barriers as most Rwandans share the same religion, Christianity, and the same language, Kinyarwanda, but the roots of this tension may lie in the influence of Belgian rule in the first half of the 20th century. The tension between these groups escalated to become the Rwandan Civil War of 1990 when the Tutsi refugee group residing in Uganda, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, attacked Rwanda.
In April 1994, both the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents were shot down in an airplane as it approached the Kigali airport. This sparked the genocide, and in the next 100 days, between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed. The international community failed to stop the slaughter.
While the genocide is a still a powerful image in the representation of Rwanda in the media, Rwanda has made great strides in many areas, including its medical initiatives, particularly its anti-malaria programs which earned Rwanda an award from the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. The country’s natural beauty and rich cultural traditions have also gained international attention. The country’s variety of natural wonders – from lakes to volcanoes and from mountain gorillas to rare birds – have led to a growing tourism industry.
Rwanda is home to tens of thousands of refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Programs that bring together various ethnic groups from Rwanda as well as refugee populations are in great need. Furthermore, those initiatives, which target youth who are unfortunately familiar with incidents of massive violence, are especially useful to create new generations of local peacemakers.
In addition to the RDDC/FIDESCO Rwanda Youth education initiative in Kigali, RDDC also holds an annual program, The Water Project, which takes place in the town of Rugerero that borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This location allows RDDC to bring together 150 children from various ethnic groups. The organization uses the creative force of dance to appeal to this large group of children and allows them to first learn and then educate others regarding a variety of social issues, especially public health topics, such as water conservation.