In the course of our work in Rwanda, several designers are sharing their thoughts on our experience together. Here’s what Sue Ngo had to say.
Even though it is my last night in Kigali, I am awake at 3:42AM still not adjusted to the time difference. Five days ago I flew 18 hours from NYC to Kigali to be part of a team of designers with an ambitious design brief — stop genocide.
Day One: Kigali Memorial Center Visit
After a team breakfast at the hotel, we headed from our hotel to the Kigali Genocide memorial built in 2004 by Kigali City Council and our hosts Aegis Trust. Our group walked in the sunshine through the well manicured gardens that housed the remains of about 259,000 people in fourteen mass graves. Flowers had been laid atop each grave by family members and from the community with banners that declared never again and peace in half a dozen languages.
After we had all gone through the indoor memorial exhibits, we gathered to interview Freddy Mutanguha, the Director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial. We went around the room to share our initial thoughts on the memorial with Freddy. When it came to my turn, I began to articulate my observations and suddenly I started trembling. I could never fathom 259,000 people dead, but seeing the photos, personal notes, intimate details and left over artifacts from the victims made the genocide brutally real for me. I could not continue my account, deferring to the designer next to me. Having just met most of these designers, and not accustomed to public displays of emotion, I considered this to be a sort of emotional trust fall.
Day Two: We ask how and why.
A group of us started the day at the weekly all-staff meeting for Aegis Trust. Aegis Trust is an international genocide prevention organization which maintains the Kigali Genocide Memorial, builds peace education programs for students and teachers, manages an audio visual archive of the stories from the genocide and supports essential social programs to aid those still living the repercussions of the genocide.
After the meeting, we conducted interviews with various staff members who led onsite youth workshops, teacher training workshops and the psychology program.
The leader of the Youth programs at Aegis Trust, Mark, told us “after death there is life”. He inspired me with his vision to create a global youth network by promoting the ‘Rwanda’s 20 Year Miracle’ and spreading Aegis’s model of empowering youth through action. His model was simple, train Rwandan teens to be ambassadors to other countries, such as the Central African Republic, to teach their peers about peace and reconciliation with the goal of preventing genocide.
Between our meeting with staff members we were introduced to a survivor.
We met Letitia. When she entered the room, her small build and youthful face made me mistake her for a teenager rather than a twenty seven year old mother of three. She was seven years old on April 7, 1994 — we could have been at the same primary school together. As she shared her story with us, one tragedy after another, all I could do was sit in awe of her strength to survive. I walked away with a deep desire to share her story with anyone who would listen.
How can we help as designers?
After completing two emotionally and physically grueling days of interviews and site visits, I was stunned when our leader Jason Ulaszek pulled out the sharpie and white board. I was further amazed and heartened by how we collectively synthesized everything we saw over the past two days into target users to focus on and larger question to tackle on our last day in Kigali.
Why are we here?
Yes, of course we want to prevent genocide from ever happening again. But more immediately, we want to build up these portraits of reconciliation and amplify the good work of Aegis Trust. We want to find relevant audiences and convey to them this powerful story of the Rwandan Miracle to prevent genocide from ever happening again.
Today, we will fill in the gaps of knowledge by conducting follow up meetings. Tonight, we will fly to London to start designing tangible solutions.
As the birds start to sing their morning songs and the sun rises outside my hotel room, I am hopeful we can accomplish what we set out to do. And if we don’t, it will still be enough.