Our Peacebuilder Project in Rwanda had a very generative beginning over 2 weeks in late September. This project is a collaborative effort between Threshold GlobalWorks and the Center for Council, (www.centerforcouncil.org ) which is based in California. It incorporates the council model of relationship building and deep listening with our SRM self-regulation skills and attention to resilience at the community level. The model is intended to become a global intervention for healing fractured communities.
During my time in Rwanda we met with many organizations interested in joining with us to support peaceful reintegration of genocidaires into communities following more than 20 years in prison. Over the next two years 55,000 prisoners will be released, most having had no rehabilitation services.
One of many gratifying experiences was the opportunity to hear from local historians and academics both about the pre-colonial values that shaped the strength of the Rwandan people and the sequence of events that created the context for the 1994 genocide. These important conversations help to sensitize all of us to the cultural and political currents that underlie current relationships. The conversations inevitably came back to the questions: How do you move beyond the history and how do you build solidarity rather than stereotypes? All agreed that there needs to be a way to hold the conversation. One man said, “ You westerners tend to go through the front door when starting a discussion. In Rwanda we often go through the side door or the window.” In the preparation for reintegration the need for the kind of transparency that builds a sense of safety must come in small steps, according to what we heard.
This trip laid the groundwork for our upcoming November conference in Bellagio, Italy. The conference, sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation, will bring together a group from the California prison system (wardens, former prisoners, and corrections officials, and penologists) and a group of Rwandans representing the many government and NGOs who will be supporting the project, including the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), the Association of Rwanda Trauma Counselors (ARCT). The project will be collecting implementation and outcome data and we are fortunate to have Rwandan researchers attending the conference.
“Ownership” of the project is vested in the Rwanda Center for Council. The goal is for the project to be fully operated by local individuals and groups with support from the Center for Council in California and Threshold GlobalWorks.
Here in New York our news has been carrying weekly stories about the dire situation at the Rikers Island jail. I hope that, at some point, perhaps our Peacebuilder model may be able to contribute to the stabilization of Rikers’ staff and inmates and their humane treatment.