Empowered lives, a photo exhibition by the UNDP in Rwanda

It was the first art exhibition by the UN agency’s Rwanda chapter since it launched operations in the country in the 1970s. The exhibition addresses issues concerning unity, reconciliation, healing and social cohesion in post-conflict Rwanda. Photos by Emmanuel Kwizera.

Empowered Lives is a month-long photography exhibition by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Rwanda.

It opened to the public Wednesday evening at the University of Rwanda’s School of Architecture and Built Environments (SABE), located within the Camp Kigali complex. It is the first such exhibition by the UN agency’s Rwanda chapter since it launched operations in the country in the 1970s.

On display are 54 photographs by Rwandan photographer Alice Kayibanda, who works with UNDP-Rwanda. The photos depict the lives of ordinary Rwandans in the communities and the countryside that the UN agency through its various human development initiatives has positively touched.

The photos are sample works from the last five years of the UNDP’s various programs.

One of the photo stories, titled Green Villages depicts the green splendor of the Rwandan countryside. It tells the story of the ‘Supporting Ecosystem Rehabilitation and Protection for Pro-poor Green Growth (SERPG) programme, a government program that was launched in 2014 with the aim of scaling up the Green Villages Initiative. A key component of the project involved relocating hundreds of households from fragile ecosystems and disaster prone areas to Green Villages on safe land. The UNDP partnered with the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) and other stakeholders at the pilot stage of the project.

Another photo story highlights the plight of learners at the Blessing School for the Visually Impaired, located in Musanze. The school is a recipient technical and financial support from the UNDP, under the programme, ‘Strengthening Civil Society Organisations for Responsive and Accountable Governance in Rwanda’.

Other themes addressed in the exhibition range from unity, reconciliation, healing and social cohesion in post-conflict Rwanda. Road safety and community policing programs are depicted through photos that show community members and police officers engaged in dialogue based on mutual respect and trust.

Speaking at the event, Stephen Rodriques, the UNDP Resident Representative in Rwanda described Empowered Lives as “not just a photography exhibition, but an exhibition of how the lives of people in Rwanda are changing for the better”.

“As UNDP, our sole purpose is to help people live better lives, and especially the poor, to live more fulfilling, more meaningful lives, to live longer, healthier, and more educated. That’s our mission and that’s what we mean by empowered lives. It’s about people having more choices, being able to do more things, and to realise their own potential in life. We have been doing this for well over 50 years in many countries. Here in Rwanda we’ve been working with the Government, private sector and NGOs to help people, but we had never told our story in this particular way. So this for us is an opportunity for people to see what it means when we talk about empowered lives.”

Kayibanda Alice, who took all the photos for the exhibition and who works with UNDP Rwanda, describes herself as ‘a photojournalist who started out as a street photographer’. Her favorite pastime, she says, is “to capture people in their own environment’.

Five years ago, she embarked on a personal photo project dubbed ‘Au quartier’ (In the neighborhood), scouring the country with her lens to capture breathtaking images of ordinary Rwandans in ordinary settings. In the near future, she hopes to compile the photos into a book.

“The photos in the exhibition are those of people whose lives have changed. It’s as simple as looking at a child with albinism who has difficulty seeing,” Rodriques explained further:

“In UNDP we have two missions, one is to serve people outside of the UNDP –people in the rural communities and villages. The second is to make sure that the people who work for UNDP, our own staff feel empowered as well. It was great for Alice as a photographer to have this opportunity. It is part of her contribution to UNDP, and it was a great opportunity to have her help us tell our story. The exhibition is open to all Rwandans and we want them to come and see what it is that we do as the UN in Rwanda.”

Rodriques also revealed that UNDP-Rwanda would pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University of Rwanda to cover various areas of cooperation, saying the two institutions shared a lot in common.

In attendance were the Minister for Environment, Vincent Biruta, Minister for Youth, Rosmary Mbabazi, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives from government and the private sector, among others.