Since launching at the end of 2021, the Aegis Trust’s ASPIRE programme (‘Action for Sustainable Peace, Inclusion, Rights and Equality’) has run a small number of workshops each year designed specifically to help parents take the principles of Peace and Values Education out of the classroom and into the home.

For decision-makers and community influencers who take part, the workshops provide an opportunity to think about how they can encourage and support others in their neighbourhoods to promote empathy, critical thinking and personal responsibility in communal and domestic settings, supporting the formal learning experience of young people who are educated about Peace and Values as a cross-cutting subject in the school curriculum.

For parents living in conflict, who may be referred to the programme by local authorities, the workshops offer a chance to re-evaluate the causes and consequences of strife in the home and develop understanding and skills which can help them build peace in their own lives, and in the lives of their families.

“It is my first time to attend training on peace and values and rebuilding families,” says Ferdinand Niyonsenga, who participated in an Aegis workshop for parents at the Huye Community Peace Centre last week. “After attending the training I am committed to change, and people will see it. Before, when I returned home, the children used to run to bed not because they wanted it but because they feared me. I grew up seeing my father beating my mother and thinking it is normal, just like an evening routine, but now I wish to embrace good things I learnt from this training.”

Ferdinand was one of a hundred participants in the parent workshops held by the Aegis Trust at community peace centres last week in Huye, southern Rwanda, and Nyagatare, eastern Rwanda.

“Normally requesting forgiveness is difficult for me, but here I have learned that requesting forgiveness is a medicine to take so as to heal,” he added. “When you were giving us examples of couples who lived together for 15 years but never really knew each other, I was wondering if you were aware of my life. So from now, I am committed to changing, and I am asking my wife to forgive me.”

Building on the development of peace education content for teachers and students, the workshops covered the history of the Genocide against the Tutsi, its causes and consequences; pathways to violence and pathways to peace; listening and sharing approaches; values in parenting; trauma healing and gender equality; and ways to engage in difficult conversations with their children about the genocide, building a nonviolent family as well as rebuilding a peaceful society.

Through an exchange of experiences, the parents discovered a common challenge when it comes to discussing issues related to the genocide with their children. Negative stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination were recognized as problems that can still occur today among young people, as children pick up attitudes from adults.

They learned different approaches and steps to develop positive attitudes and values among their children – like demonstrating how listening and sharing are examples of the process of “opening up” and “accepting” – two important steps that can lead to peace.

Donatha Uwineza, Ferdinand’s wife, was putting some of those principles into action by the end of the workshop in Huye. “I was wondering why my husband attended other courses but never changed his behavior,” she said. “I tell you truly that today is the first time I could take my picture using his phone, because I could never touch it. Now I forgive him. The bad behaviour he knows that I know about him, I am leaving it here; I am no longer angry with him.”

At the end of the workshops, Donatha, Ferdinand and their fellow parents committed to take up active roles in their families and communities by inculcating values of humanity as one way of preventing genocide and any other mass atrocities from occurring again.