Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A year in the life of

A small network called Never Again is showing how advances in technology can be used to create new societies based on friendship across continents, sharing skills and constructing hope from creativity.

I first got involved in Never Again before their event in February at the Imperial War Museum, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the genocide. From a day of seminars which had to focus on the negative, unbelievably terrible events, I have been impressed and inspired by the positive approach of this group of young people who, shocked by the failure of the world to stop genocide after the ‘never again’ rhetoric after the holocaust, decided to have a go at it themselves. Their approach is not unrealistic idealism, but very much rooted in ‘quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place’, as Rufus Jones put it so nicely.

Our Rwanda chapter’s major project since the anniversary has taken on one of the major difficulties in Rwandan society: how to teach its history. Education was used to divide Hutus and Tutsis for years before those divisions were used to provoke genocide. To talk about what happened in those hundred days inevitably raises difficult issues but by turning to artistic means of expression including song and poetry, Never Again were able to let ordinary people give voice to their feelings (pictured below). The fruits of the competition will be used in books and articles to help Rwandans find unity in their history and Never Again clubs have even been set up in schools across Rwanda.

Never Again’s latest venture has been to import Peace Baskets (pictured above) to Britain in what we hope will be the beginning of a successful trading link. The baskets, already a hit in America, are handwoven from papyrus reeds by Avega, a survivors’ organisation formed by women affected by the genocide. They symbolise the need for healing as well as helping to give themselves an income and support the many orphans left. With a lot of help, we finally have 40 of the baskets in Britain and are selling them to Friends for £10 each. All the money will go to Avega.

The most exciting thing I have found about Never Again is the way that, despite the fact that we are all busy, we can use our skills and ideas to make small contributions to bigger projects. For example, I have a background in student newspapers so could advise on the logisitics of starting one, while others are able to bring their experience of applying for grants from NGOs. This publication, which could be a newspaper and website, will provide another means of expression, a practice ground for young journalists and provide education on issues such as HIV prevention.

We are still learning about the best ways to communicate effectively between people in places as far apart as Rwanda, Britain, China and Canada, but have found disciplined email discussions to be very contructive. Never Again’s experience is showing how the world wide web can facilitate friendship and dialogue.

If you want a peace basket in time for Christmas, we can arrange collection in London and Oxford. Email claremariewhite at gmail dot com for more details.
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First published in The Friend