Promoting democratic and human rights values among Rwandan youth
The overall objective of the project was to empower Rwandan youth to play an active role in the democratic process and good governance of their country, and to understand and stand up for human rights to further nation-building processes. The project targeted 7,000 youth members of Never Again Rwanda (NAR) clubs and associations to make them “ambassadors of change”. The targeted youth were to “reach out” to other young people and the general public through “knowledge and skills sharing and advocacy initiatives and drives”. The key activities of the project were to: train youth on human rights and advocacy skills; hold debates and theatre shows on human rights and democracy; and support the trained youth to play a role in democratic processes and good governance. The project was generally well designed in that it took into account the sensitive socio-political context of Rwanda under its post-genocide government.
Lessons from Project
The project design did not explicitly outline what it meant by empowering young people to engage in “democratic processes”. In practice, the project encouraged its beneficiaries to raise concerns and consult with the authorities at local level and to debate issues of concern but there was little emphasis on citizens’ right to demand accountability from government.
A baseline survey was conducted at the start of the project. It showed respondent’s level of agreement with a number of statements about human rights and democracy in Rwanda, but not their level of knowledge. The project would have benefited from a more qualitative approach in which respondents could explain the rationale for their views.
The project was mostly focused on explaining the domestic and international laws and policies underpinning democratic processes and human rights, and did not give sufficient attention to enhancing trainers’ pedagogical and training skills. As a the grantee acknowledged that the trainers had acquired a good understanding of democracy and human rights issues, but did not know precisely how to convey this knowledge to groups of younger, less educated people.
The project essentially targeted existing members of the NAR to the detriment of outreach towards other young people who were not involved with the organization. Although some clubs were established in the Eastern province during the project period, this was not a deliberate priority. More specific targeting of new groups of young people would have enhanced the project’s relevance by disseminating its benefits more broadly.
An unplanned beneficial outcome of the project was that it enhanced some young people’s participation in economic development and income-generation activities. Some of the participants interviewed referred to other activities they engaged in subsequently to the training, including small lending schemes. A number of the young people in Bugesera who joined a district-administered vocational training scheme felt that the debating skills they acquired through the project helped them be selected for that scheme.
The project empowered a number of Rwandan young people who became aware of past abuse and were able to seek assistance. This was significant in the Rwandan context where silence about past abuses is widespread. As a result, the project’s ability to encourage young people to “break the silence” was a notable achievement. However, subsequently it is important that the organization be prepared to direct young people to a range of NGOs that can provide tailored support, including legal and socio-psychological.
A project team made up of the grantee’s Executive Director and the Project Director was responsible for project management, while relevant board members provided strategic direction. The team was widely appreciated by project participants and trainers for its willingness to engage with them and its pro-active approach to dealing with young people’s concerns and needs. The quality of project management was also visible in how the grantee dealt with the political sensitivity of the issues raised.
The grantee used an explicit strategy to promote human rights concerns with youth which it called “internal influence”. This consisted of conducting non-public advocacy, so as to avoid antagonizing the authorities by airing concerns openly.