Studying conflict, war, and peace made Bente Wennekes, a Dutch sophomore, understand how fragile both conflict and peace is. During one of the fieldtrips that she and other Dutch students held to Rwanda at the start of this year, Wennekes says to have gained a whole new perspective in reference with what peacebuilding really entails. In her book, ‘You, me and Empathy’ she, along with co-authors Ange Asare and Mikkie Jongstra, highlighted how kindness and empathy are crucial tools in building a peaceful society. Their work was more of implementing lessons and morals that they learnt from Rwanda and believe to be important for the youth today. The book has illustrations that young children can enjoy while reading. Photos/Courtesy The lessons they said to have heard repeated a lot were; empathy, critical thinking, and personal responsibility. They then chose to pack them into a story in a subtle way, and ensured to use some Kinyarwanda words, and Rwanda as an overall setting of the story because, they found representation very important. Her school, Amsterdam University College organised a trip to Rwanda at the start of this year. They wanted to gain first-hand insight on peacebuilding and peacekeeping in post-genocide Rwanda. “I went into all conversations with an open mind, simply wanting to understand and listen. At that point I did not understand, and sometimes still find it hard to wrap my head around how Rwandans have found such an enormous amount of strength, love for their country and perseverance to do the work to rebuild their own and each other’s hearts. It may sound cheesy but honestly all conversations left me extremely inspired,” Wennekes shares. Every day she chooses to be an optimist, regularly seeing evidence of the opposite makes this choice risky, a certain amount of faith is necessary, she says. “During those two weeks I met people that have the same faith. To see people speak with such a passion, dream, and spark in their eyes about the work that they do, is something I can only strive towards. No matter what I do after my studies; I need that same spark,” she says. She says to have understood that the creation and maintaining of peace looks extremely different in every society, adding however that this can only be a ‘true’ sustainable peace when it comes from the people living in the society where the peace is being built. Mikkie Jongstra is among the co-authors of the book. “At first, I thought that the gained knowledge on how peace functions is built, and expanded (by learning from Rwanda and Rwandans) could be extrapolated and applied into peacebuilding practices around the world, hence eliminating conflict worldwide. I have come to realise and because of the Rwandan people we had the honour to meet that this is not how peace works,” she says. A role to fulfil Initially, Wennekes says she was interested in the world of peace building because, who does not want a peaceful world? “But more importantly, to also live in peace. I am aware that the place and time I was born is pure luck, that it could just as well be me fleeing from or living in war. Everyone deserves peace, but two billion people do not have this, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross,” she says. She believes to have a role to fulfil in ways that can contribute towards the world of peacebuilding. “This does two things; on the one hand, it makes me thankful for every day without war where I live, and on the other hand it pushes me into action. At the moment this action manifests itself in learning more, listening more and talking to the people around me, so to practice peace in my own environment because that is where it really starts,” she says. Literature for peace-building “We learned that almost all children in Rwanda are in school, which means reading is becoming more and more accessible,” the author says. “Even if reading is not a possibility, our book has illustrations that young children can hopefully enjoy while being read to. By some Rwandans, we were told that they are doing their best to install a reading culture into the Rwandan youth (alongside the long history of oral storytelling), so we wanted to contribute in a small way.” Ange Asare. The authors believe kindness and empathy are crucial tools in building a peaceful society. Photos/Courtesy The writers hope for the book to help promote Rwanda’s reading culture in a fun and accessible way. “We hope to have created a learning tool for Rwandan children that they see themselves represented in, and we wanted to include the lessons we heard from Rwanda’s peace builders that they say are most important for youth today. We can only hope that our book will have the impact we want it to have.” Lessons for other countries A lesson that I believe every person and country can learn from is the profound effort of Rwandans to eliminate “othering” speech and tendencies, according to Wennekes. “Rwanda understands like no other that speaking about groups of people in a dehumanising and generalising way can, in an extreme form, lead to the justification of violence,” she notes. “This “othering” language is used in parliaments all over the world but also among friends and within families. An example of this, especially in Europe, is being critical of the language used around refugees. Language is very dangerous. Usage of a verb that is used mainly for vermin, immediately dehumanises in a subtle but effective manner. “Everyone can practice and check themselves and the people around them on how they speak of so called “others”. This is a small and easy way of putting peace into practice in our daily lives,” she says.