Center for Arts in Medicine

Community Engagement

Rwanda

The Center for Arts in Medicine is proud to be part of a consortium of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) working to improve the quality of life for people in Rwanda since 2007. The partnering organizations are The Barefoot Artists, the Rwanda Red Cross, Engineers without Borders, Jeff Health, and the Rwandan Village Concept Project. The work of the Barefoot Artists in Rwanda greatly inspired the Center’s leaders and provided a foundation of work and accomplishments upon which the Center’s work could make a significant impact in Rwanda. As a part of this consortium, the Center for Arts in Medicine undertakes initiatives in Western Rwanda that use the arts to enhance health literacy, access to healthcare, community engagement, vocational skills, and general health and well-being in communities of genocide survivors and indigenous Twa people.

The Center has taken interdisciplinary teams of student and professional artists and health providers to Rwanda each year since the spring of 2008. These teams have undertaken numerous project including: development of theatre and dance troupes and a lay health team in the Rugerero genocide survivor village, arts-based health literacy projects and ongoing health assessments in the Rugerero survvor village and the Rugerero Twa village, development of pottery and dance cooperatives in the Rugerero Twa village, and development of a bicycle and moto taxi cooperative in Gisenyi that promotes health literacy and provides free transprt to health clinics. These projects use the arts to enhance health literacy, health, vocational opportunities and quality of life in these communities. In Rwanda, as in other East African counties, the Batwa (also called Twa) suffer severe discrimination, poverty, poor health, and lack of opportunity. “Batwa” translates to mean “those that history left behind”. They are generally known as "the invisible people".

Since 2010, the Center has worked with a community of Twa people in Rugerero. In partnership with the Barefoot Artists, we have helped this community to develop a very successful pottery cooperative on the main road. This cooperative has changed the health and quality of life for this community considerably, and has helped to make them visible, which is a major cultural shift in this region. This community has set the courageous goal of using their arts - pottery and dance - to make the Twa visible in Rwanda and to bring respect and opportunity to their community. The Center for Arts in Medicine has been proud to assist this community in achieving this goal.

At the request of the community, in December of 2016, we took a team of professional dance artists from the University of Florida, Gibney Dance, and the Mark Morris Dance Group's Dance for PD program to Rwanda to help the further develop the community's dance troupe, Itorero Amahoro ("Troupe Peace"). The troupe worked tirelessly and made extraordinary achievements. By the end of our residency, a video of the troupe dancing posted on Facebook drew over 108,000 views. The world is now watching Itorero Amahoro! They are visible.

The Center has also provided in-depth arts in medicine training to students and professionals in Rwanda and the DRC in partnership with the Kigali Independent University (ULK) and the University of Goma (2012 September/October Training Programs in Gisenyi).  In 2011, with support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation and the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, we hosted the East Africa Arts & Health Forum in Kigali, Rwanda. Artists, arts organizations, public health and ministry of health professionals from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Demcratic Republic of Congo (DRC) gathered for three days of presentations and sharing to highlight and advance the use of the arts for promoting health in East Africa. The forum led to the development of an East Africa Arts & Health Network and national arts in health organizations in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC.

For information about traveling to Rwanda with the Center for Arts in Medicine in the future, please contact Jill Sonke at jsonke@ufl.edu

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