In the hills of Huye is a club of young people aged between 10 and 30 who, through their outfit Twubake u Rwanda, are working to mend ties broken by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis through music and drama.

http://teachaids.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/TeachAIDS_Rwanda.jpgThe group was born out of the realization that full reconciliation following such a horrific event takes time and requires multi-sector interventions.

One of such interventions is the establishment of Gacaca courts in 2001 modeled along Rwandan community conflict resolution intended to deliver quick justice to thousands of victims of the Genocide and reduce the backlog of cases.

By 2000, approximately 120,000 alleged génocidaires were in jail waiting to be tried.

"Between 1996 and 2006, the courts had only managed to prosecute 10,000 suspects and at that rate it would take another 110 years to prosecute all the suspects," according to the Human Rights Watch, an international rights watchdog.

Gacaca courts have indeed reduced the backlog of cases, but promoting reconciliation among the victims and the perpetrators living in the same community remains a challenge.

"We notice a subtle dislike among community members and knowing the background, we certainly think that uneasy relationships have a thing to do with the communal justice system," says Celestin Nsengiyumva, Twubake u Rwanda group leader.

His group started with nine youths in 2006, performing songs and plays aimed at defusing tension among community members. The group has since grown to 40 members who spread the message of reconciliation in the district.

The Rwanda National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) agrees that real reconciliation can only be achieved gradually and no particular system of justice can heal all indifferences among parties involved.

"That's why we need partnerships and everyone's contribution to try and fill the gaps such as this one," says Bishop John Rucyana, the NURC chairman.

Among the many partners is USAID/IREX. Through their Youth for Change (Y4C) project, several Rwandan youth groups, including Twubake u Rwanda, have been given skills to lead their communities in designing and implementing small grant projects that bring tangible benefits and provide opportunities for communities to work together in the gradual process of Building Peace in Rwandan Communities.

"We were working amidst financial hardships and when our group was identified by the USAID/IREX, it was such a relief," says Nsengiyumva.

Their key role is mending family ties. One such example is the story of 19-year-old Mary. Her father was found guilty by the courts and was sentenced to serve a jail term. However, upon regaining his freedom, he detested seeing his children mixing with those from the families that pinned him.

"Because Mary is a member of our group, her father really over-reacted but with time he has been able to accept the reality and learnt to live with it, at least on surface," Nsengiyumva.

His peers have moved an extra mile to help their communities by starting another group in form of a Sacco where members collect Frw 200 per week to help others who have been ordered by Gacaca courts to compensate people whose property they destroyed during the Genocide.

The group has about 50 members, ten of them génocidaires. They have helped all of them to pay their fines and reconciling with the people they wronged.

Originally depending on communal donations given during their performances, USAID/IREX support first came in through training for the leader in entrepreneur skills which was accompanied by a small grant of US$ 600 to implement a community peace project.

The club says it was able to buy performing attires, recorded songs and produced some CDs and is now the proud owners of over 10 songs some of which have aired on major local stations around.

The second phase grant from the USAID/IREX was US$ 1,800 to help them expand the club's activities. The club now has a sound music system, have produced more music CDs which they have distributed to the community members and local radio stations. They have also organized several tours to schools and communities since this year begun.

However, the group might face a slowdown in their activities mid this year when the USAID/IREX Y4C project closes shop.

But Nsengiyumva thinks they have enough with skills to sustain the projects even when the funder leaves. "We were trained in entrepreneur skills and we are already putting them to use. We have leased land for five years to plant Irish potatoes for sale and our music records and performances will also earn us some money to keep the group going."

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