The AUC course Peace Lab is hosting its first edition focusing on Rwanda in January 2021. A counterpart to the June edition which focuses on Kosovo, students would normally travel to Rwanda to carry out fieldwork and learn about post-conflict reconstruction and state-building first-hand. However, due to travel restrictions caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, students are instead digitally meeting organisations such as the UN, NGOs, youth peacebuilders, women’s groups, and local residents during a 10-day virtual field trip.
Conceived and organised by Dr. Anne de Graaf, Peace Lab is a qualitative research methods class that focuses on peace-building fieldwork and learning through first-hand interactions with individuals, institutions and various organisations working in post-conflict regions. Starting in 2015, the course is well-known in the AUC community as exemplary of experiential learning that brings students to Kosovo each June. With the first half of the course dedicated to researching, reading and understanding the current situation in the country of study, the second half of the course includes a 10-day field trip that allows students to meet with local residents and truly experience the daily realities of life in these regions. The students document their experience through multi-media blog entries and a final project which leads to a presentation based on an original, independent research topic.
The first January edition of Peace Lab is taking place in 2021 and focusing on a new location: Rwanda. After a visit and moving presentation at AUC in May 2019 by the former Rwandan Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Jean Pierre Karabaranga, the foundations for the course were laid. In many ways, Rwanda has become the place to go to learn about transitional justice. Recovering from the violent civil war and genocide of 1994, the nation has been focusing on national healing, rebuilding and looking toward the future with progressive policies regarding healthcare, education and the participation of women in government and civil society.
Under normal circumstances, Dr. de Graaf and a group of 12 AUC students would be travelling to Kigali for 10 days during the month of January to start their fieldwork, document their experiences and work on gathering data/interviews on their research topic. However, due to the global coronavirus pandemic and associated travel restrictions, the course was moved entirely online. With AUC student and Kigali resident Dieudonné Gakire (himself a genocide survivor, author and youth peacebuilder) coordinating Zoom presentations and virtual hangouts with meeting partners on the ground, and Nini Peters (AUC alumna) assisting with keeping schedules and liaising with Dieudonné, the course has been able to proceed effectively and efficiently.
Peace Lab Rwanda begins by examining various aspects of the Rwandan Civil War and Rwandan genocide as a starting point to comprehend the complexity of peace-building processes. By meeting with survivors, authors, activists, governmental institutions and NGOs, their stories, experiences and first-hand accounts offer a holistic understanding of what happened in 1994. The course also looks at how Rwanda has used this painful moment in history to spark progressive changes in society. From think-tanks working on effective ways to facilitate debate and dialogue, to organisations focused on increasing female representation in government and civil society, to NGOs supporting individuals with HIV/AIDS and youth outreach movements for empathy and unity, Peace Lab delves into the many perspectives involved in creating contemporary Rwanda.
Throughout their virtual field trip, participating students will be documenting their experiences and reflections online via their blog. You can find the link below to follow their journey.