April 2020 marked the month of mourning in Rwanda to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi when over one million Tutsi and Hutu moderates were slaughtered during a span of 100 days. Due to the coronavirus, the government of Rwanda mandated a two-week lockdown that started on 22 March 2020 and extended into April with several subsequent lockdowns on a district-by-district level. During a personal communication conducted 28 March 2020, Chaste Uwihoreye, a clinical psychosocial worker and director of Uyisenga Ni Imanzi (UNM) as well as one of the co-investigators of the UKRI GCRF / Newton fund project MAP at Home, noted that the timing between the anniversary of the genocide and the first lockdown amplified traumatic episodes and the need for psychosocial support. Uwihoreye stated: ‘Many mental health service users are now locked in their homes and in isolation. They feel the memories of the genocide alone, when normally they would be coming together to tell their stories and to support one another.’ In response to this need, a group of academics from University of Lincoln, University College London, and University of Rwanda, psychosocial workers from Uyisenga Ni Imanzi, and educators and young people from 25 pre-existing Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) schools and clubs created and implemented Mobile Arts for Peace (MAP) at Home: online psychosocial support through the arts in Rwanda to explore how arts-based approaches could provide psychosocial support through digital platforms within the context of COVID-19 in post-genocide Rwanda. The project was coordinated in partnership with the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Rwanda Rehabilitation Services, UNESCO Rwanda and Rwanda Arts Council.

 

In Rwanda, psychosocial services provide an important contribution to building individual and community resilience, social cohesion and trust. The lack or absence of trust has been shown to not only effect victims of the genocide but to have transgenerational effects with young people encountering issues with developing meaningful relationships. In a mental health survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in Rwanda (2018 RMHS), it was estimated that 20.49 per cent of the general population met the diagnostic criteria for one or more mental disorders. Although most of the population are aware of where they could seek support for mental health (61.7 per cent), only 5.3 per cent reported to have utilized existing mental health services. Due to the government policy of decentralizing mental health services to district health centres, a large number of people living with mental health problems are primarily being given psychiatric medication versus therapeutic care. Thus, the approach of MAP at Home was to engage a therapeutic model of design and delivery to include professional psychosocial care alongside community-based considerations of well-being through peer-to-peer mechanisms and to train mental health providers. Additionally, these workshops were designed to train facilitators in the MAP at Home model and to assign and support the face-to-face group sessions within their respective communities, as well as linking mental health service users with mental health services at health centres and district hospitals and to increase the awareness of mental health issues in the community.

 

MAP at Home used art-based approaches and its core conventions of trust-building and team building to support psychosocial well-being in the aftermath of genocide.The project team sought to develop an online platform to bring together mental health service users and mental health service providers to provide a free service that was delivered to the ‘home’ of research participants, and to reduce the risk of stigmatisation while integrating mental health as a part of individual and social well-being through art-based methods. MAP at Home researched the prevention of, response to, and awareness of mental health and promotion of psychosocial well-being among youth, families, and community members through an innovative art-based, culturally informed approach, responsive to the needs of participants. It aimed to examine the potential for providing mental health support and community engagement in Rwanda through interactive online platforms, participatory art workshops, and communications between young people, educators, cultural artists and psychosocial workers across the five provinces of Rwanda: Rwamagana District (Eastern Province); Rubavu District (Western Province); Gicumbi District (Northern Province); Huye District (Southern Province); and Kicukiru District (Kigali Province). These districts were selected due to the presence of established MAP clubs in each of the five districts in the five provinces of Rwanda (Breed 2020).

 

The project delivered over 30 workshops between November 2020 – August 2021 that included 16 parents, 21 health professionals, 23 health facilities, 33 students, 34 community health workers, 36 teachers, and 56 schools with an overall participant base of 108 research participants who engaged in monthly online workshops. Smart phones were distributed to research participants at the start of the project and monthly data bundles were provided to facilitate their ongoing participation. Workshops included the naming of emotions, building trust, sharing stories and solving problems through Rwandan proverbs, games, visual exercises, music, storytelling, images and movement. Initial findings evidenced through pre and post-surveys, interviews, observation notes and artistic outputs illustrated a shift in the attitude and behaviour of research participants from feelings of depression and isolation to connection and joy alongside increased self-confidence, ability to express emotions, and linkages with local health care providers. MAP at Home is currently being integrated on a local and regional level through partnership with the Rwanda National Rehabilitation Services and Rwanda Biomedical Centre.

 

Dr Ananda Breed is Professor of Theatre at the University of Lincoln and author of Performing the Nation: Genocide, Justice and Reconciliation (Seagull Books, 2014), co-editor of Performance and Civic Engagement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), co-editor of Creating Culture in (Post) Socialist Central Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), and co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Applied Performance Volume 1 & Volume 2 (Routledge, 2020).

Contact: Brayford Pool, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, LN6 7TS, UK

Email: ABreed@lincoln.ac.uk

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8823-7760

 

Dr Chaste Uwihoreye holds a PhD in psychotherapy with 17 years’ experience working with young people affected by genocide, violence and other different forms of abuse. He is Director of Uyisenga Ni Imanzi, a Rwandan child and youth focused organization.

Contact: PO Box: 7257, Kigali, Rwanda

Email: uwichaste@yahoo.fr

 

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000/0002/9982/8435

 

Dr Eric Ndushabandi is Director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace. IRDP is an independent think tank and peacebuilding organization that focuses on three areas of intervention: Peacebuilding and Peace Education, Governance, and Socio-economic Development. He also teaches Political Science at the University of Rwanda.

Contact: B.P. 7109, Kigali, Rwanda

Email: nseric26@yahoo.fr