Sept – Nov 2021
A Rwandan national, Benjamin is based in the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali.
He joined Prison Fellowship Rwanda in January 2021 as Program Coordinator of Reinforcing Community Capacity for Social Cohesion and Reconciliation through Societal Trauma Healing.
Benjamin holds a master’s degree in Development Studies from Kigali Independent University of Rwanda. He is married and has 4 children.
He has close to 12 years’ experience in leadership, programme design and implementation in various civil society organizations.
Benjamin has managed diverse programmes in emergency relief and rehabilitation, peace-building and conflict resolution, disaster risk reduction and transformational development, food security and livelihoods, as well as general development in Rwanda, Kenya, D.R.C, South Sudan and Chad.
AGN; What do most people get wrong about their view of your country?
BN; Some people still hold on to the view that Rwandans are not one people and that we are made up of different ethnic groups. I don’t believe this to be true as Hutu and Tutsi are not different ethnic groups but different socioeconomic classifications. Hutu and Tutsi come from every part of our country.
When I visit other countries, I am often asked if I am a Hutu or Tutsi, that is the same thing as asking if am I rich or poor! It is not quite the welcome I am expecting… Hello, welcome to my country are you rich or poor…?!
AGN; You hold a bachelor’s degree in Applied Statistics. It’s not often that you hear youngsters say they would like to be a statistician when they grow up. What motivated you to pursue this path of study?
BN; When I was young, I desired to be a pilot or an economist. As things turned out, the opportunity to study economics became more realistic for me and it is as a result of this that the pathway opened up to study Applied Statics under the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences at the National University of Rwanda.
AGN; Is there a childhood dream you had and if so, why did you not pursue it?
BN; I mentioned earlier I desired to be a pilot or an economist as a boy. I must tell you I actually wanted to be a pilot a lot more. My family’s fortunes were adversely affected by the troubles during the 1990’s and this resulted in any aspirations to become a pilot being shelved.
When I was in primary school there was a medical dispensary close by and helicopter pilots would land there as a result. I associated their work with helping people and that is what ignited my desire to be a pilot. Many times, when they would land or be taking off, me and my school mates would rush to watch, we also had an interest in what they were delivering or collecting and would sometimes guess between us about this. All of this made an impression on me. I suppose the takeaway is; ‘I wanted to fly because I wanted to help’.
AGN; You went on to obtain a master’s in Development Studies. What was the thinking behind pursing this particular field of study?
BN; While I was an undergraduate, I undertook a range of short courses that focused on reconciliation and trauma healing. I also engaged in voluntary work and training related to this area.
The resultant outcome was a shift from pursing economics as a profession to being a peace builder. After graduation I went on to set up an organization that focused on this area. The thing is my main qualification was in Applied Statistics. I would attend events/conferences etc. and engage with people who would give the impression my degree in Applied Statistics didn’t quite convince them I had the expertise to be operating in the peace building arena at certain levels.
My masters helped to equip me with further knowledge and tools for my work as a peace builder and it also put to bed any doubts people had about me being qualified to operate at a more senior level.
AGN; Your work experience has seen you operate in several countries and provided insight into different conflicts and challenges. Is there a common factor or primary cause that manifests across the countries you have worked within?
BN; A common factor I have found is a ‘them and us’ mindset. Often times people establish a group around one or more central factors and then seek to ensure the viability and growth of that group in relation to others, at times doing so to the detriment of others. Resultantly the common picture emerges of different groups competing for resources, power, privilege and control.
AGN; Can you provide insight into your role as Program Coordinator at Prison Fellowship Rwanda?
BN; The overarching aim of the organization is on restorative justice and healing. Our work covers both perpetrators and survivors of genocide. My responsibilities encompass coordinating a number of projects that are designed to be transformative on an individual and/or community level. A key area is interpersonal healing; focusing on mental health where we use different approaches to remedy trauma.
Social cohesion through community-based therapy is another area of our work where we seek to reinforce community capacity through societal healing. As part of this aspect of our work different groups are brought together to work collaboratively in order to improve their livelihoods.
Another area of our work focuses on multifamily therapy and intergenerational trauma transmission therapy as a means of developing greater cohesion and healing.
AGN; What do you find to be the most satisfying aspect of your job?
BN; Helping people is the most satisfying aspect of my work. Seeing the transformation in people who were formally wounded but now healed brings immense satisfaction.
AGN; What do you perceive most people’s attitude to the rehabilitation of offenders to be?
BN: It is atypical to find people who are in favor. Most everyday people I engage with are not overly enthusiastic. They would rather resources were expended on those who haven’t committed a crime rather than on those who have.
One of the projects I am involved with is called ‘Prisoners Journey’. The project supports the children of prisoners in order improve their chances of having a better future. Even though the children the project is aimed at have not committed any crimes themselves, people are generally not in favor of it due to the association with their parents who have.
The children affected are typically from less well-off backgrounds. I believe if one changes the status of the children’s parents to law abiding citizens the attitude to supporting those same children would change in terms of how receptive people are.
Comparatively there are a smaller number of funding bodies and initiatives dedicated to the rehabilitation of offenders. There isn’t as much interest in this area, hence securing funding for specific projects can be exceedingly challenging.
AGN; All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. When not hard at work what do you like to do to relax?
BN; I really enjoy swimming and although I don’t get much free time to indulge, I go to the beach or a lake to swim when I can. I also enjoy socializing with friends as I am a very sociable person. Most of all I enjoy spending time with family.
AGN; Who would you say was your biggest influence as a child and what impact do you feel they had on you?
BN; My mother had an outsized influence on me. She was extremely hard-working and driven. She ran her own restaurant and was very open about how she operated the business with the family. I learned so much from the way she organized her business, the concepts and ideas she would come up with and the processes that led to implementation. She would constantly motivate and push us to study and work hard. It imbued in me the value of preparation and application.
AGN; What are you most passionate about and what would you like to be remembered for?
BN; I am a stout Christian and love observing my faith. By extension helping people is something that I am extremely passionate about. I would like to be remembered for that.
AGN; Why should people visit Rwanda?
BN; It is a very peaceful place and the people are very welcoming. We have numerous places of natural beauty such as our national parks and of course our country is well known as a place where gorillas can be seen in their natural habitat.
AGN; How important is family to you?
BN; I do what I do and I am what I am because of my family. My wife is my best friend. My children are also my best friends. Family isn’t just important; it is number one.
AGN; What do you consider to be your greatest achievement and why?
BN; Having a loving family is my greatest achievement. I have been happily married for over 11 years and very much look forward to a future that is more of the same.
© 2021 All rights reserved - Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Sept 2021