'Never again'

25th November 2005 at 00:00
Former minister Stephen Twigg invites teachers to Rwanda to find out how to teach about genocide. Lucy Russell reports

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days. Most of the dead were Tutsis and the perpetrators Hutus.

Today, the legacy of this modern-day genocide lingers, the massacre remembered, but it is the reconciliation and reformation of this small central African country that is being used as an example of what citizenship actually means.

Now, 11 years later, teachers from the UK will be able to see this beacon of light for themselves.

Stephen Twigg, former schools minister, first visited there in July last year as director of special projects for Aegis Trust. "It is overwhelming to see, to listen to, and to learn from those who have survived. Nothing can compare with seeing the situation for yourself. There is something very powerful about first-hand experience," he said.

"Rwanda is a beautiful country and the people are incredibly friendly. It was amazing to see how they are coming to terms with what happened in a constructive way with a spirit of reconciliation rather than revenge."

British teachers will have the opportunity to join Mr Twigg as he makes his second visit next year. From February 18 to 25, they will see sites of the violence; meet orphaned children and other survivors; and visit schools and talk to pupils and teachers - Hutus and Tutsis sitting side by side in the classroom-on how they learn about and from the massacre. They will also meet the Rwandan Theatre Group, Mashirika, who are touring the country as part of an educational outreach effort.

"Citizenship isn't simply about voting, or about the community in which people live." said Mr Twigg. "It is a global challenge and I am keen to promote links between schools here and in other parts of the world."

This is citizenship in its widest sense. Teaching about Rwanda also gives an interesting take on the Holocaust.

Aegis Trust was born out of the work that James and Stephen Smith were doing in Holocaust education. As they were preparing to open the Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre in Nottinghamshire, in 1995, they heard reports of the internecine war in Rwanda. With the atrocities in Bosnia, the Smith brothers considered the post-Holocaust cry of "never again" had a hollow ring, and decided to establish the trust. The memorial they have built in the capital, Kigali, to the Rwandan victims is modelled on the UK's Beth Shalom centre.

When Mr Twigg talked to young people in Rwanda about the Holocaust, he was struck that it seemed to give them great confidence: "There is almost a sense of 'We went through a horror, and it was our own horror, but horrors have happened elsewhere, we are not unique'."

This is a lesson which applies to pupils in the UK too. "There is something powerful about an example that is so recent. Perhaps teachers will take some inspiration from the teaching in Rwandan classrooms."

In Rwanda, there is an emphasis on what has happened since, and on the future development of the country. In agreement, Thomas Matussek, German Ambassador to Britain, argues that teaching of the Holocaust should go beyond 1945 and show a modern, democratic Germany that has learnt its lessons.

"We are not comparing like with like," he said "Teaching about the Holocaust in the UK is teaching about something which happened sixty years ago in another part of Europe, whereas teaching in Rwanda about the genocide is about something which happened in their country eleven years ago. It's not a direct parallel, but it raises amazing issues about personal and moral responsibility and the dilemmas that people face."

Lucy Russell taught history and RE at Westlands school, Sittingbourne, Kent, before completing her doctorate at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where she is a visiting tutor. A book based on her PhD research, Teachers or Preachers? Teaching the Holocaust in school history (Continuum), is due to be published next yearl Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27; www.holocaustcentre.net

ABOUT THE TRIP

The visit can build into a credited module towards a diploma, MA or MEd for those who sign up to the genocide education module which Aegis Trust is running in association with Bishop Grosseteste college. Teachers are asked to do some fund-raising in their schools before the trip to raise awareness among their students and to contribute to poverty reduction in Rwanda.

The cost of the trip is pound;2,250 plus VAT. For more information and for sponsorship and fund-raising ideas and support, contact Chantelle Lee, tel: 01623 836627; email: chantelle.lee@aegistrust.org.

Field trips for school pupils are also planned for summer 2006.

For more about the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre and Aegis Trust, visit: www.bethshalom.com

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