Set to run from 2014 to 2015, the human rights project entitled “Breaking barriers, building bridges” aims at raising awareness, fighting discrimination, supporting inclusivity and cultural rights of children and youth with disabilities in Rwanda. This project will seek ways to improve the lives of young people with mental or physical disabilities while promoting the rights of freedom of expression, access and participation in cultural activities. It is supported by the Swedish Institute and coordinated by Teater Sagohuset (a Swedish theater company) with Ishyo Arts Centre, in partnership with Rwanda Library Services, Tubiteho, Comedy Knights and Kaami Arts, and Rwanda Library Services.
Ishyo and other stakeholders from the cultural industry—namely Lyliane Matabishi (actor); Eliane Umuhire, Solange Liza Umuhire, and Sonia Uwimbabazi from Kaami Arts; Michael Sengazi and Hervé Kimenyi from the Comedy Knights; and from the educational sector, Felicie Mureramanzi and Eugenie Bazimenyera from the Centre Tubiteho—are now back in Rwanda after a series of workshops, carried out in Lünd, Sweden, from 6 to 13 August 2014. These workshops focused on capacity building and developing strategies for programmes which will encourage the artistic and cultural expressions of young people with disabilities in Rwanda, while breaking taboos related to mental and physical handicaps.
Hervé Kimenyi, a professional actor and comedian who participated in these workshops said, “This was an eye-opening experience for me. Throughout the different workshops and meetings we had with different Swedish social, cultural and educational stakeholders, I learned how we can empower young people living with disabilities. Whether through job creation and/or exposing them to the arts, they can then develop their own skills and talents, and learn to live independent lives.
I was very impressed by the work of the Mooms Theater [a theatre company based in Malmö, Sweden] which has been working with people with developmental disabilities for over 20 years. This theatre company now counts among its members professionally-trained actors who have toured internationally. Of course, we would have to adapt these teaching/training models to the Rwandan culture, but ultimately, what transpired from my experience is that once we let go of our stereotypes about physical and mental disabilities, we create a society allowing each one of its members to live to their fullest potential. And in that process, we discover how each one of us can have a positive contribution to our communities.”
For the Rwandan participants, the next step is the creation and implementation of local workshops, which will bring together trained actors and professionals working with youth living with disabilities, to encourage the cultural expression of this group, while raising awareness about their needs and their abilities.
The relevance of such projects for Ishyo stems from the organisation’s involvement in children’s creative activities since 2006. During the past years, Ishyo acted as a co-founder of the Association Rwandaise pour le Théâtre, l’Enfance et la Jeunesse (ARTEJ), founded the children’s festival ‘Kina’, produced children plays touring internationally (‘My Little Hill’, featured at the Hellwach Festival this past June), among other activities. This project therefore fell in line with this centre’s objective of making ‘culture available for everyone’.