Rwandans Look for Ways to Heal in Kentucky During a three-month period in 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans died during the genocide. This past week, a small group of Rwandans traveled to Louisville, Ky., to attend counseling workshops to learn ways to help its struggling citizens cope.
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Rwandans Look for Ways to Heal in Kentucky

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Rwandans Look for Ways to Heal in Kentucky

Rwandans Look for Ways to Heal in Kentucky

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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The war-torn country of Rwanda continues to struggle in its recovery from genocide in 1994. More than a decade later, thousands of Rwandans are living with HIV and many more live in extreme poverty. And they're reaching out for answers. A few Rwandans are in Louisville, Kentucky, this week to learn nonviolent conflict resolution and how to teach it to children.

From member station WFPL, Stephanie Sanders reports.

STEPHANIE SANDERS: Louisville, Kentucky, is a world away from Rwanda. Five people from the Central African nation have traveled here to a historic Presbyterian church for hands-on training.

Ms. JANINE SHAKIR(ph) (Class Teacher): What are some of the labels that happen at you're school when you have a child that's hard to handle? You say, stupid, okay. Dumb.

SANDERS: Class teacher Janine Shakir works to identify the ways adult sometimes oppress their younger counterparts.

Ms. SHAKIR: And somebody said dangerous, but what about violent? Right?

SANDERS: Shakir scribbled words like loser, rebel and lazy on a large notepad. It's part of a lesson that teaches children to identify how language and particular words can fuel conflict and lead to violence. Generations of conflict and tension between ethnic groups in Rwanda exploded in genocidal rage in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutu sympathizers died in a four-month period of bloodletting. The slaughter, in one way or another, has affected everyone in the country that's about the size of Maryland.

The survivors include Suzeri Marsalan(ph). He lost his wife and two daughters in the genocide, but is working towards national reconciliation.

Mr. SUZERI MARSALAN (Co-founder, Friends Peace House): (Through translator) I found out that not to revenge. And I choose a good way to do the good things instead of the bad thing.

SANDERS: Marsalan is a judge in Rwanda who issues penalties and possible treatments for those accused of participating in genocides. He's also the co-founder of an organization called Friends Peace House, a Quaker group started in 2000, to support peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution efforts.

Mr. MARSALAN: (Through translator) I think the catch of peace is for everybody. But here, we're learning how to teach children; when we teach children as to prevent another genocide in the region.

SANDERS: Also attending from Rwanda are a school principal, minister and psychologist Baraka Paulet(ph). She admits it's not easy to change how people relate to each other in her country.

Ms. BARAKA PAULET (Rwandan psychologist): When the need is great and the service is little, you see, it's not easy. It even affects you sometimes. All I can tell you is we can't finish other programs, you know? But you can do little that you can and that can change many.

SANDERS: The Louisville Peace Education program pays for the Rwandans to travel to Kentucky. Psychologist Paulet says she and the others will return to Rwanda today, full of training exercises, games, worksheets and hope.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. PAULET: It is hard, but it is possible, you see? It may take some time, but it's possible. And the - after that change, after hearing, after accepting, after understanding, then you start a new life.

SANDERS: Members of the Louisville Peace Education program plan to stay in touch and even make follow-up trips to help teach a new generation of Rwandans how to live in peace.

For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Sanders in Louisville.

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