Dr. Ben Voth, Director of Debate, SMU Associate Professor of CCPA

There are several things I saw in the Rwandan people that we could use to build peace here.

One is the model of forgiveness that we saw in the communities near Kigali. Victims and participants of 1994 genocide spoke with clarity and conviction about their suffering. They spoke candidly about their obligations toward one another and victims spoke of how they had forgiven those who had wronged them. Those words were matched with deeds. We saw a home build by a genocide participant who provided this action as a matter of restitution to a woman who lost family in the genocide. There communication and actions toward reconciliation are a model for overcoming conflict here at home.

I also saw and heard the young members of the Rwandan debate team on Thursday night. While in their home, about a dozen high school debaters served me a traditional Rwandan meal and regaled me with their own improvisational debates about Rwandan politics. They quizzed me about American politics and opinions. Their strong intellectual banter conducted with such friendly care inspired me to believe in the future of Rwanda and the power of debate. Several of them were part of the teams that traveled to the SMU campus in 2014 and 2015. I realized that night that debate is a pedagogical practice that can open hearts and minds over vast distances. I can envision debate instruction in the United States and Rwanda where exchanges embody the human capacity for positive change.

I also saw in the 50 Rwandan security force members a patient desire and seeking for education. Despite the challenges of translation and occasional power outages, these men and women listened, wrote and spoke about how to best resolve conflict in their communities. Their examples made me believe we can seek the same education here at home for police and community leaders. Rwanda has much to offer as a nation that is presently excelling in health and economic welfare. Rwanda’s life expectancy of 64 years is an amazing recover from a low of 25 years during the genocide less than 25 years ago. Life expectancy has advanced two years for every year that has passed since those tragic events. Rwanda is the come back nation. It is a nation that made me want to return to that great nation for all the lessons I learned there.”

More details can be seen in my blog post about these events.