Teacher shares insight on genocide with pioneering effort in Rwanda

Teacher Shares Insight On Genocide With Pioneering Effort In Rwanda

By Kevin J. Bargnes

Buffalo News (New York)
September 5, 2011 Monday

Through a program funded in part by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a local middle school teacher spent time in Rwanda this summer, organizing that country's first known genocide seminar for teachers.


Andrew T. Beiter, of Hamburg, who teaches eighth-grade social studies
at Springville Middle School, helped pull together the three-day
conference, held for 35 Rwandan teachers in the capital, Kigali.

It's a country that is rebuilding after the 1994 genocide that killed
an estimated 800,000 people. And in his first trip to the country in
2009, Beiter realized that Rwandan teachers needed help explaining
the madness of genocide to their young students.

"When you understand the causes of genocide, you can prevent them,
instead of just react to them," said Beiter, 46.

"These teachers face really, really unique problems. They go back to
classrooms where one of their students may be the child of survivors
and another student might be the child of the perpetrators, so
it's much different than the Holocaust. [Both sides] came back and
commingled."

All of the teachers were themselves survivors of the genocide but had
no in-depth knowledge of previous genocides, including the Holocaust.

Without that knowledge, the teachers can't really teach, since most
Rwandan schools can afford little more than a teacher's salary and
maybe a chalkboard, and not much instructional material. Beiter helped
find a series of speakers and experts to share their knowledge,
including a Holocaust survivor living in America, who talked with
the teachers via video chat.

"This is a place where teaching about the Holocaust and genocide
aren't abstractions; it's really real for them," said Peter J.

Fredlake of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Contrary to what Hollywood movies might make the area out to be,
Rwanda has recovered rapidly from its low point following the 1994
genocide. It has a functioning government that is progressive in
many ways -- more than half of its legislature is composed of women,
and plastic bags are banned as part of its "green" effort.

"They bring in a tremendous number of tourists, they have an excellent
infrastructure of roads, and they're some of the friendliest people
I've met in my entire life," said Mark R. Gudgel, a high school English
teacher in Lincoln, Neb., who organized the conference with Beiter.

And since a new Rwandan law now requires that the history of genocide
be taught to children, Gudgel said, they hope to make the Kigali
conference an annual event.

Beyond that, Beiter hopes to expand his educational efforts to other
countries that have experienced genocide, including Bosnia, Armenia,
Namibia and Argentina. Beiter mentioned that they may even expand
some of their efforts to discuss U.S. efforts to fend off and kill
Native Americans during the 19th century.

"By teaching them how to teach the Holocaust, it provided the Rwandan
teachers a softer lens to look at their own experiences," Beiter said.

"And that'll be true about any place that has these atrocities."

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