Empowering prisoners with hands-on skills for rehabilitation and social reintegration

Adequate prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration is key to maintaining peace and cohesion within and across families and communities in Rwanda, given its tragic past of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Prisoner rehabilitation that takes into consideration the social and emotional well-being of prisoners, especially those convicted for crimes related to the genocide, and ensures they can acquire hands-on skills will contribute to their effective reintegration, reduce recidivism, and foster social cohesion among Rwandans. It is particularly important now because, 28 years after the genocide, a significant proportion of genocide perpetrators have completed their sentences and returned to their communities.

On November 10, 2022, Interpeace handed over to the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) training facility and equipment constructed in Bugesera Prison, Eastern Rwanda, as part of its support to prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration in Rwanda. The TVET facility was constructed in line with the "Reinforcing Community Capacities for Social Cohesion and Reconciliation through Societal Trauma Healing in Bugesera District" pilot programme, funded by the European Union (EU) and co-implemented by Interpeace and Prison Fellowship Rwanda.

It will enable prisoners to learn technical and practical skills in various trades, such as welding and tailoring. Those skills will help them earn a living upon release and effectively integrate into their families and communities.

The training facility will follow the Rwanda TVET Board curriculum taught in all TVET schools across the country. Upon completion of the curriculum, trained prisoners will obtain an official certificate issued by the Ministry of Education through the Rwanda TVET Board, which will enable them to easily integrate into the job market after release.

One of the prisoners, who is part of the first cohort of 60 students, is confident that being enrolled in the training programme has started to boost his self-confidence as a functional member of society.

"I was worried about how I was going to catch up with the significant changes that occurred during my 10 years in prison and how I was going to integrate back into the job market so I could provide for myself and my family. This TVET facility is a timely solution for my worries." He emphasized.

The training facility will benefit more than 3000 prisoners who are detained in Bugesera prison.

Interpeace also handed over to Rwanda Correctional Service standardized curriculum that will guide the adequate rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners. Validated in July 2022, the curriculum was developed with financial support from Interpeace and will be implemented in all prisons across the country. More on the curriculum here: http://bit.ly/3Ex2CzL

Kayitare Frank, Interpeace Country Representative in Rwanda, stated that both the TVET training facility in Bugesera Prison and the developed curriculum complement the work Interpeace and its partners have been doing to address post-genocide challenges related to mental health, social cohesion, and livelihoods in Rwanda.

The Commissioner General of RCS, Commissioner General of Prisons Juvenal Marizamunda, appreciates the partnership with Interpeace and the European Union that has significantly contributed to achieving RCS’s goal of transforming prisoners into productive members of society and contributing to fostering social cohesion among Rwandans.

The Ambassador of the EU to Rwanda, Belen Calvo Uyarra, who graced the handover event, applauded the initiative, saying, "I am very pleased to note that this initiative is part of our flagship programme being implemented by Interpeace to foster social cohesion in Rwanda." "I am sure that this facility will empower inmates to become productive members of society upon their release." Said Her Excellency Uyarra.

Similar support will be extended to five more districts in Rwanda, namely: Musanze, Nyamagabe, Ngoma, Nyabihu, and Nyagatare (including the prisons in those districts) with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Rwanda – Healing Journey

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda left the country almost completely devastated, with tremendous consequences for mental health and social cohesion. This video highlights the testimonies of Genocide survivors and perpetrators who were able to heal from their psychological distresses thanks to community-based healing spaces created through Interpeace’s Societal Trauma Healing Programme, which uses a holistic approach to tackle mental health, foster social cohesion and reconciliation, and promote sustainable economic livelihoods.

Female prison officers play a key role in prisons and prisoner rehabilitation

Women correction officers constitute one quarter of the workforce of the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS). Alongside their male counterparts, they play a pivotal role in rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners in the community. However, many challenges still hinder their professional performance and career growth.

On 20 September 2022, the RCS organised the 3rd Rwanda Correctional Service Women Convention, in partnership with Interpeace and RCS’s local partner, the Dignity in Detention Organization (DIDE). The Convention aims to promote gender equality and accountability in the correctional sector.

The two-day event was timely because it occurred a few months after validation of the Curriculum for Prisoner Rehabilitation and Reintegration on 20 July 2022. The Curriculum was jointly developed by Interpeace and RCS, with the technical assistance of the Institute for Legal Practice and Development (ILPD). To implement the curriculum effectively and successfully will require the efforts of all RCS staff members and other stakeholders.

Speaking at the event, the Commissioner General of RCS, CGP Juvenal Marizamunda, explained that the convention’s first purpose was to enhance women’s empowerment in the RCS, in order to improve the performance of female correction officers as well as identify and address any challenges that they face while carrying out their duties.

Titled “Empowering female correction officers towards a professional career: a shared responsibility”, the conference enabled the participants to share professional experiences, information and good practices, and identify the needs and concerns of RCS female correctional officers as well as issues that impede their performance.

The Conference’s approach aligned with Interpeace’s Societal Trauma Healing Programme in Rwanda, funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden through SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency).

The Societal Trauma Healing Programme includes a component that supports national efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners, focusing particularly on those convicted for crimes related to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The rehabilitation component is led by DIDE and Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Interpeace’s local partners, which have set up healing spaces in prisons and strengthened the capacity of RCS staff members, including through psychoeducation.

Two of the main challenges that participants identified were the low representation of women in leadership positions in RCS units, and the limited access of women to learning opportunities.

The Curriculum aims to equip inmates and RCS staff with more knowledge in a range of areas, including human rights, legal awareness, family dynamics, the safe return of inmates, and positive connections with the community. It will help inmates and RCS staff to tackle some of the challenges that Conference participants identified, especially the need to strengthen capacity through training.


Rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners in Rwanda as part of trauma healing

Rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners remains a struggle in many countries and communities around the world, including Rwanda. In recent years, many Rwandan prisoners, especially those convicted of crimes related to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, have finished their terms and returned to their communities. Most individuals convicted of the most heinous genocide-related crimes and sentenced to between 20 and 30 years in jail are expected to be released within the next four to five years. According to Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) statistics, this number exceeds 20,000 people.

RCS has made remarkable efforts over the past several decades to improve the well-being of convicts, including the implementation of numerous rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. However, serious issues persisted. For instance, there was a lack of a national curriculum, particularly regarding the psychosocial preparation of soon-to-be-released inmates, as well as a strong coordination structure between the many actors involved in the rehabilitation process.

On July 20, 2022, RCS and Interpeace launched a comprehensive curriculum which is a 6-month certificate programme divided into eight key modules and each module focuses on the different themes. Those modules include interpersonal skills and conflict management; physical and mental wellness; career development and entrepreneurship; drug and substances abuse education; human rights and legal awareness; family dynamics; civic education and genocide ideology, and safe return and connection with family and society. It will be implemented in all 13 prisons across the country by RCS staff members in collaboration with RCS stakeholders. The curriculum was developed with technical assistance from Interpeace as part of the European Union-funded programme "Reinforcing community capacity for social cohesion and reconciliation through Societal Trauma Healing in Bugesera District." It will serve as guiding tool to correctional officers and partners to ensure effective psychosocial rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into their families and communities.

Studies have indicated that without an appropriate psychosocial rehabilitation and reintegration programme, released convicts may continue to experience feelings of humiliation, worthlessness, guilt, sadness, and a skewed self-image, all of which may impact their social lives in the community. In most cases, ex-prisoners face rejection by their families and communities, especially by community members who are not ready to receive them due to their crimes. The dismissal and lack of community support drive some to relocate to other places where they are not known. This may exacerbate social tensions by triggering fear and anxiety, particularly among genocide survivors.

According to the baseline research conducted prior to the development of this curriculum, the existing programmes are predominantly informal and not uniformly implemented in all prisons. They are provided by a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and some governmental institutions rather than by RCS employed staff. The new curriculum consolidates and harmonizes existing initiatives and programmes and incorporates elements of relevant good practices identified from other contexts.

Frank Kayitare, the Country Representative of Interpeace in Rwanda, indicated that the research revealed the urgency of having a harmonized approach to prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration as part of trauma healing in the country.

"Re-integrating ex-prisoners for genocide-related crimes ranked among the highest challenges identified by families and communities in the survey. Difficulties for ex-prisoners and their immediate families to sufficiently reconnect, worsening anxiety among genocide survivors in the communities where these ex-genocide perpetrators are reintegrated; and the challenge of ex-prisoners adapting to a fundamentally changed society in many respects, including gender norms and family dynamics, are among the main issues that this curriculum is intended to help contribute to solve," said Kayitare.

The new curriculum combines and harmonizes existing initiatives and programmes with elements of relevant good practices identified in other contexts. It has also considered the psychological aspect of prisoner rehabilitation, which was lacking in existing initiatives. As a result, it will not only equip inmates with socio-emotional skills such as self-management and dealing with trauma stemming from a long life in prison, but also develop vocational and livelihood skills to make an independent living in the community after release.

During the curriculum’s validation, the Commissioner General of RCS, ACP Alex Bahizi Kimenyi, recognized the added value of the curriculum as it offers a well-structured and holistic approach to tackling challenges his institution has been facing on this matter. He called upon all actors to lend their hand in ensuring effective and efficient curriculum implementation.

"This curriculum will enable us to work in a well-harmonized and coordinated manner, which will improve the quality of our work. However, adopting this curriculum is not the end of the journey; it is rather the beginning. I call upon all our partners, including donors, government institutions, and communities, to support this initiative so its implementation can be fully effective."

Thibaut Moyer, Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the EU to Rwanda, appreciates the partnership with Interpeace that has led to the development of this curriculum. He reiterates the EU’s commitment to support its effective implementation.

"With the anticipated tens of thousands of prisoners to be released in the upcoming years, the EU has set aside 7 million Euros that will be used to work with local organizations, the government and other stakeholders to ensure a peaceful transition back into the communities for these prisoners and continue to foster peace in Rwanda."

The curriculum will contribute content to the "Halfway Home" initiative, where prisoners about to be released will be transited. From there, they will be offered opportunities to meet their respective communities and have an open discussion with family and community members. The move aims to facilitate the reestablishment of relationships, acceptance, tolerance, and trust between prisoners and community members and foster social cohesion.





Mobile mental health clinic: promoting mental health resilience and social cohesion in Rwanda

Justin Mambo (this is a pseudo), 46, is a retired military officer and a father of four. He resides in Bugesera District, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. He recognises having mental health issues, including chronic headaches, anger issues and depression stemming from his military career.

“I sometimes wake up with too much anger and rage. In some cases, I emotionally and physically harm my family members unwillingly because of my mental health problems,” said Mambo, adding that he has difficulty in getting along with his neighbors due to his illness.

Mambo is one of many Rwandans who continue to face very high levels of trauma and other psycho-social problems. The recent Rwanda Mental Health Survey (RMHS) conducted in 2018 revealed that the prevalence of several mental disorders is higher than the global average and is particularly elevated among the survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one in six people suffer from depression.

On 18 May 2022, Interpeace and the Government of Rwanda launched a Mental Health Mobile Clinic to support national efforts to strengthen a decentralised mental health system.

A customized and well-equipped clinic was handed over to ADEPR -Nyamata District Hospital and will be used across the Bugesera district to conduct regular screenings of individuals or groups in communities, health centers or public places such as markets and do referrals of special cases to Bugesera Referral Hospital. It will also help mental health professionals provide home-based care to patients.

“We have been facing two serious challenges. Not only is Bugesera Hospital located far from our home, but we also lack financial means to take my sister to a psychologist. Now that we have a mental health mobile clinic in Bugesera, it has renewed my hope that she will receive adequate treatment, “said Jeanne Uwayezu(this is a pseudo), a resident of Bugesera District whose sister has been struggling with mental health problems.

The RMHS indicates that the level of awareness toward mental health services offered stands at 61.7%, versus a 5.3% utilisation rate. The clinic will also be used to carry out mental health awareness campaigns across Bugesera District.

The launch of the clinic is in line with Interpeace’s programme entitled: ‘’Reinforcing community capacity for social cohesion and reconciliation through Societal Trauma Healing’’ in Bugesera District.  Funded by the European Union (EU), the programme offers a holistic approach to simultaneously address mental health issues while promoting social cohesion and fostering sustainable livelihoods in this district.

With the support from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the programme has been expanded to five more districts in Rwanda, namely: Nyamagabe, Musanze, Nyabihu, Ngoma and Nyagatare. This clinic responds to the needs expressed by communities in Bugesera during the regular monitoring and evaluation process of the programme in the district.

“We have learned that mental health is an important aspect of social cohesion and reconciliation— trauma healing is an essential element in preparing communities to get together.  We are happy that with this mobile clinic, it will be much easier for mental health professionals to reach the communities and do their work in a very professional manner,” said Ben Napnau, the Deputy Head of Mission of the European Union Delegation to Rwanda who added “This is one of our flagship projects that has proven to be highly relevant and effective. It is a model in a sense that we work with Interpeace, as an international organization but at the same time we build partnership with Rwandan organizations to be closer to communities. This is an essential element of a good cooperation.”

Dr Theodorus Hollander, Interpeace’s Senior Regional Representative for the East and Central Africa, highlighted the intrinsic link between peace and mental health. “Peace is not only about absence of violence, but peace is also about a sense of inner peace, it’s about mental resilience, it’s about the capacity of communities to interact with one other and the capacity to reconcile,” he said.

Hollander also appreciated how local authorities and the EU contributed to an initiative that strengthens long-term mental health resilience in the country.

The mental health mobile clinic is an innovative and unique solution that will support the implementation of the 2020-2024 National Mental Health Strategic Plan and contribute to the achievement of the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) and Rwanda’s Development Vision 2050, which considers good health and well-being of the population as a national priority.

“After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, we made one choice. The choice to live together as Rwandans and to reconcile. Interpeace’s trauma healing programme is helping us to strengthen that choice. We really appreciate this mobile clinic as it will help to strengthen mental health resilience as well as foster reconciliation process and socio-economic status of communities in Bugesera,” noted Commissioner General Emmanuel Gasana, the Governor of Eastern Province, and Guest of Honor at the launch of the mobile clinic.

The vehicle is equipped with a fixed workstation for at least one Doctor and one Nurse (seats and fixed tables), two fixed passenger seats, Wi-Fi internet connection, one foldable bed for use in emergencies (as an ambulance), two large waterproof tent extensions attached to the body of the vehicle, built-in silent generator for lighting and heating in case of power outage, solar panels for power backup in case it is operating in areas without access to power, as well as a built-in washroom.

Governor CG Gasana encouraged Bugesera District authorities, the management of ADEPR-Nyamata Hospital and the community members to ensure proper management and effective use of this mobile clinic.

Rwanda: Empowering young people to communicate for peace

Young people have played an important role in pushing a narrative that promotes peace, reconciliation and societal healing in Rwanda, since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Training them to communicate well is key to ensuring that they feel more empowered and can actively participate in shaping their own futures.

On 26 May 2021, Interpeace and its partners trained some 42 young people in Rwanda’s Bugesera District to sharpen their critical thinking abilities and equipped them with the communication skills they need to promote peace and reconciliation.

“Young people participated immensely in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, mainly because they were uninformed and lacked analytical capabilities. The ruling regime at the time used the opportunity to feed them with hateful and genocidal ideology,” explained Hugues Mugemana, the lead trainer and Director of Communications at Rwanda We Want - a youth empowerment organisation.

During the genocide against the Tutsi and the period before, young people did not have the capacity to properly analyse information. As a result, they were fed with hateful and genocidal ideas which they believed without questioning. This exposed them to manipulation that had severe repercussions, as they got heavily involved in massacres that happened during the genocide. This communication training was therefore very important for young people in post-genocide Rwanda to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past.

“Social media, which the youth [mostly] rely on as a means of communication, exposes them to a lot of information, [some of which can be harmful]. This workshop helped them to analyse and critically process this information to make informed decisions that decrease their chances of being manipulated into actions that are detrimental to themselves and their societies,” said Mr Mugemana.

The workshop was organised by Interpeace in partnership with Bugesera District and in collaboration with Rwanda We Want, as part of our societal healing pilot programme in Bugesera District, funded by the European Union (EU).

The training responded to one of the programme’s objectives, to strengthen the capacity of young people to receive, process and digest the legacies of the genocide against the Tutsi; and to transform them in a positive way that helps them to manage trauma and develop a shared understanding for building a peaceful and inclusive future.

“Empirical studies and previous experiences have revealed transgenerational legacies of the genocide against the Tutsi. This training has strengthened the young people’s capacity to think critically and exploit modern-day communication channels to communicate for peace, make an impact in their communities and help fight misinformation,” says Ernest Dukuzumuremyi, Programme Manager at Interpeace Rwanda.

During the workshop, facilitated by young people from Rwanda We Want, participants discussed the importance of drawing from young people’s experiences to communicate more effectively for peace.

“The training has equipped me with new skills that I need in my daily life. As an active communicator on social media, I learned how I can apply them in promoting peace, unity and reconciliation,” said Osée Nkurikiyimana, one of the trainees.

The training has provided participants with the skills they need to promote peace and to overcome hate and deceit, as they create positive impact in the Rwandan society. The Mayor of Bugesera District, Richard Mutabazi encouraged the youth representatives to use the skills gained from the workshop to communicate more efficiently and to fight misinformation.

On his part, Interpeace Rwanda Country Representative, Frank Kayitare talked about the importance of communicating properly to prevent violent behaviour. He advised the trainees to be confident in sharing information but should first assess its accuracy and credibility.

There was emphasis on the role of social media in uniting people, reducing stigma and stereotypes as well as in advancing peaceful coexistence.

Eleanor Friel, who represented the EU Ambassador in Rwanda during the opening session, commended Interpeace and Rwanda We Want for organising this communication for peace workshop in Bugesera District. She reminded the trainees that communication is very important in everyday life and for peacebuilding.

Our societal healing programme in Rwanda enhances capacities of communities through an innovative and holistic approach to expand investment in mental health, address trauma and advance social cohesion. The programme is funded by the EU through its instrument contributing to stability and peace (IcSP).

Credits: Interpeace