#RealityCheck 1: Peacebuilding Efforts by Never Again Rwanda

11 May 2020   ·   Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza

In a new series on the PeaceLab blog, we publish brief interviews with peacebuilding practitioners about how COVID-19 has affected their work. In this first interview, Dr. Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization “Never Again Rwanda” (NAR) describes their work, how they had to adapt to the pandemic and what kind of support is needed from external actors.

1. What does your work on crisis prevention and peacebuilding normally look like? What kind of project were you working on before Corona?

Almost all our work rotates around promoting peace and preventing conflicts. On a day-to-day basis, these are the activities we do in peacebuilding;

  • Provide psychosocial support to wounded Rwandans from diverse backgrounds, inclusive of youth and community members.  This is through bi-monthly safe spaces facilitated by professional psychotherapists.
  • Conduct critical thinking trainings for youth, capacity building for volunteers and youth affiliated to Never Again Rwanda.
  • Organize trainings/conferences aimed at knowledge sharing and promoting peacebuilding.
  • Train community facilitators who serve as representatives of their fellow citizens by advocating for challenging issues in their respective communities that could hinder both peacebuilding and governance processes.
#RealityCheck 1: Peacebuilding Efforts by Never Again Rwanda

Each of these activities are implemented to ensure those who are wounded are able to speak about their wounded past, as a way to build a peaceful society. The trainings and critical thinking sessions are organized to ensure communities and especially youth are able to resist manipulation and make informed decisions. We also strive to ensure citizens are empowered to advocate for their needs to relevant authorities using a “do no harm” approach. Before the lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our projects were centered on community, youth, media and decision makers’ engagement, outreach, trainings and project development.

#RealityCheck 1: Peacebuilding Efforts by Never Again Rwanda

2. How has Corona influenced your work? What challenges and new opportunities are you currently facing? 

Our work is mostly centered on fieldwork and face-to-face meetings with our stakeholders. However, due to the lockdown, our work has been gravely affected. The current trends prompted us to explore other ways in which we can continue supporting those within and beyond our networks. In reference to these changes, we began using various online platforms. Some of the challenges we have faced since we began include not being able to assess behavior change as result of our new interventions, not being able to reach out to as many people as we can, especially since some of our community members do not have phones and this requires a different communication channel. 

To mitigate these challenges, we have been relying on our trained youth and community facilitators as well as peace agents who have been closely following up on some of our groups in various districts and sectors. For those who have mobile phones, we have broadened our use of social media engagement and we have adapted some of our activities from physical meetings to online engagement. For instance, our psychotherapists have been following up on various cases via mobile phone and WhatsApp and this has enabled our participants to still feel our presence despite the strict physical contact measures. We have also been developing and sharing reflection questions online across our youth groups to keep them engaged while at the same time minding the safety of those we are working with. Due to the rapid changes in technology, there are many platforms where people can communicate and engage. This is an opportunity for NAR to further its efforts of peacebuilding by engaging many digital users, especially the young people.

3. What kind of external support do you think is needed now? What can external actors like Germany do in your view?

Donor countries ought not to take the focus and funding off peacebuilding activities or ignore the complex issues that drive conflict. There is going to be a huge impact of COVID-19 on the society, health and especially the economy. Those affected will definitely include our direct and indirect beneficiaries. Therefore, what is needed most is continued support towards peacebuilding efforts through existing and new projects.

Also, the fear of the unknown will result in pervasive misinformation and the spread of false information. Organizations like Never Again Rwanda are charged with addressing the spread of hate speech and false health information.

Understanding the full impact of COVID-19 is still unchartered territory. Therefore, there will be need for thorough research, to ensure we develop evidence-based programs that will enhance our peacebuilding efforts.