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Hodder History Expert Blog

We Remember Rwanda
By Andy Lawrence
23 Jun
Recently, the inspirational Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (@RWBAcademy) held a two-day conference entitled ‘Empowering Young People to Change the world’. With a range of speakers and case studies it set out a vision for how educators can ‘empower young people to safeguard the future by learning about the past’. The gathering also taught important lessons about how we should not underestimate the ability of our students to tackle and respond meaningfully to difficult issues and how, similarly, we should not restrict their ambition in making a difference to the world around them.

In my final post I’d like to highlight one such student-led project that sought to tell the story of the genocide in Rwanda and to elicit a reaction from it. The students who worked on the project outside of lessons were aghast to find out that so few people know about what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Indeed, as a recent Holocaust Memorial Day Trust survey revealed, 80% of young people have never heard of the genocide and others like it that occurred in the post-Holocaust era. This fact stirred the students and led them to want to change that ‘80%’ statistic.

They searched the internet, found contacts, and emailed. They watched Laurence Rees’ ‘Nazis: A Warning From History’ and thought that the narration sounded excellent. So they contacted the agent of actor Samuel West (@exitthelemming) who narrated Rees’ Bafta winning series, sent a script that they had penned…and waited. A couple of weeks later they had their response – a recording of their script that Mr West had taken the trouble to produce for them.

They also got in touch with Lindsey Hilsum and Mark Austin, journalists who reported from Rwanda at the time and asked for interviews. Both kindly gave up their time to travel to the school and record lengthy pieces for the students. Central to the endeavour was the participation of Liliane, a survivor of the genocide and now award winning trustee of the Survivors Fund charity (@survivorsfund) who very kindly gave an interview to the project team. Permission to use photographs came from Drew Sutton, Bhaskar Solanki, the National Holocaust Centre (@HolocaustCentUK) and ITN Source (@ITNSOURCE) kindly allowed the students to use news footage from their archives.

The Institute of Education’s Centre for Holocaust Education (@ioe_holocaust) , which leads the way in supporting teachers who tackle the Holocaust, was also of great help. As a Beacon School, St John’s was able to access the expertise and resources of the staff at the Centre. Paul Salmons, in particular, became a real supporter of the project and was able to secure an invite for the students to present their film to the assembled delegates at the recent plenary session of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (holocaustremembrance.com) conference chaired by Sir Andrew Burns (@ihrachair) last month at Lancaster House. The project team were privileged to show their film to officials from thirty different countries which included Professor Yehuda Bauer and Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott MBE. 

The film is now online and has been sent, via an emailed link, to every secondary school for whom the team could find an email. They students hope that teachers will be able to use the film in their teaching to only to help their students understand about what happened in Rwanda and how it links to the Holocaust but also to encourage others to believe that they too have the ability to have their voices heard.

Please do watch the students’ film here.
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