Student receives grant for project that uses art to promote peace in Rwanda

“I want to take initiative to change the future of my country,” says Halma Ingabire ’18.

St. Olaf College student Halima Ingabire ’18 believes in the healing power of art.

This summer, she will use traditional Rwandan artwork to promote peace and reconciliation among young people still grappling with the effects of the country’s infamous genocide.

Ingabire received the Davis Projects for Peace grant, an award given to students who use creativity and innovation in the development of a project that both promotes peace and addresses the root cause of conflict among groups.

Rwanda is one of the smallest and poorest countries in the world. Its history was devastated by the 1994 genocide that lasted 100 days and took the lives of over 1 million innocent people. The genocide was due to the long-standing conflicts between two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis.

“Growing up in a small village in the Bugesera district located in Eastern Rwanda, one of the areas that was most affected by the genocide, I was exposed to its detrimental effects,” Ingabire says.

Bugesera has the highest number of orphaned children, widowed mothers, and those suffering from trauma and psychosocial problems in Rwanda.

“It is still very hard for the orphans, under the pressure of poverty and other problems that resulted from the genocide, to forgive the families of the perpetrators,” Ingabire says. “In my personal experience, I have witnessed threats between Rwandan high school students originating from hatred inherited from their families.”

Ingabire’s project will start with a summer camp of 20 students and young adults from both ethnic groups who grew up in the Gisimba orphanage and are now living in Bugesera. She hopes to bring youth from the two ethnic groups together to reconcile and live together in peace. Ingabire also hopes to create reconciliation ambassadors for the future generation of Rwanda.

“The essence of the project is preparing youth and student leaders to foster peace and reconciliation through artwork such as weaving, painting, and music, as art is central to Rwanda tradition and cultural pride,” Ingabire says.

Partnering with Bishop John Rucyahana, the president of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda, and the Inema Art Center, one of the leading art centers in Rwanda, Ingabire hopes that through art and community, youth will learn to forgive each other and not live with the past of their parents.

These youth will then become facilitators and launch peace clubs with weekly gatherings in five high schools. On top of this, partner organizations will work with the 20 youth facilitators to sell the artwork to raise funds for future school clubs in other high schools.

“As a Rwandan youth, and a social work major, I want to take initiative to change the future of my country,” Ingabire says.