I received the invitation to attend the ninth civic education (Itorero) from the Ministry of Education with a mixture of excitement and curiosity.
Subconsciously I knew being part of the program was going to be an experience unlike any I had had to date. Little did I know the profound impact the decision to join the program would have on my perspectives regarding good citizenship, participation in national reconstruction and development.
On June 30, all participants, including students from the Diaspora and ‘Senior Six leavers’ who excelled in last year’s national examinations, gathered at Amahoro indoor stadium from where we were oriented on the kind of life we were to lead for the next 3 weeks.
We hardly knew each other and there was a distinct difference between each category of people either in age or where they were coming from. I caught snippets of various foreign languages including French, English and Dutch. There were participants from ages ranging from 16 to 25 who came from all over the globe but by the time the program came to an end, we were collectively simply Indangamirwa or Intore.
Time, Time, Time!
When we arrived at Gabiro Combat Training Centre where the course is held, beneath the scorching sun we were told that where we stood was Rwanda’s 5th province known as Intara y’Agaciro (Province of Dignity.) In Intara y’Agaciro, time is more valuable than gold, discipline is mandatory and order is sacred.
We were brought up to speed on the fact that in Intara y’Agaciro, one doesn’t eat time, they eat food. One doesn’t shower or walk time, instead they shower water! Oh yes we struggled to adjust to our new environment of an unforgiving sun and continuous and constant physical and mental activities.
Without our various communication gadgets we were cut off from the outside world and we experienced what often eludes us where we come from, genuine one on one interactions and discussions. We were awoken at ungodly hours to start off the day with a morning run. That without a doubt required some getting used to. In fact, we saw every sunrise for the past three weeks. We were taught the art of parade and all our meals were suited to the kind of intensive physical exercise we were to go through that particular day.
We were divided into groups known as ‘amasibo’. The course management ensured that each group had participants both from the Diaspora and from within the country. The spirit within each group was to outdo all the others on all assignments and activities we were given. Nothing created a sense of fraternity and teamwork as the need and drive we all had to be indashyikirwa (the best).
The first assignment we were given which went on for over a week was a scenario of a State called Rugari which defined its political, social and economic organisation. From the lengthy scenario we were tasked to study and understand the state of the nation as well as prepare for Umuganura (National harvest day) among other things.
During the entire course, time was set aside for class, a special period when different leaders, public personalities and opinion leaders came to talk to us with special time allocated for back and forth interaction with them. We were enlightened on the history of Rwanda by Senator Tito Rutaremara, the long liberation struggle and reconstruction by the Defense Minister James Kabarebe and state sovereignty by Patrick Nyamvumba, the Army Chief of Sefense Staff.
From leaders of the public and private sector like young entrepreneurship success story of Ephraim Rwamwenge, guests spoke to us on a range of topics including investment, the political, social and economic state of Rwanda, peacekeeping, terrorism, development among others.
I personally looked forward to these sessions because they rarely felt like lectures instead they were very eye opening in the sense of where the country is coming from and where visionary leadership intends it to be.
Eventually we finally graduated to the stage where we could be given basic militarily training. We were beyond excitement to learn how to assemble, disassemble and fire an AK 47. Contrary to what we had initially imagined, it was no easy task but even still, it was thrilling to learn such a basic form of defense and protection.
‘Intore ntiganya ishaka ibisubizo’ (Intore doesn’t complain instead they find solutions). That was the biggest lesson for me in a sense that no matter what circumstances one finds themselves in, energy is best invested in finding lasting solutions as opposed to settling in comfort zones.
Going into itorero helped me understand the values and customs of my ancestors and their implications in our modern lives. Every evening was igitaramo night where we learnt the art of traditional celebration and how to embrace and speak well, not only of where we come from but what our contribution to our country’s development is to become.
Mixing diaspora university learners with other students within the country was a great idea because in bringing us all together, different conversations and perspectives were put on the table as people from all walks of life sharing the bond of Ubunyarwanda came together.
Some had issues that paled in comparison to their friends’ and I saw genuine feelings of compassion, duty and responsibility start to grow in people and that to me was the most successful part of the course. There are values that living in a particular community or society teaches you that conventional school isn’t positioned to do.
However, nothing beats the lessons impacted onto all of us by President Paul Kagame whom we fondly referred to as umutoza w’ikirenga. As we graduated into Intore he emphasized the fact that we had to evaluate our contribution towards the development of Rwanda and strongly discouraged the trend of making excuses for our absence in the process.
We all had greatly anticipated the president’s discussion and knowing that only a day before he had ended the AU Summit and still made time for us made me appreciate the kind of regard and effort invested in the youth and next generation of leaders of this country.
‘Intore ntitaha ahubwo iratumwa’ is one of the lessons am taking with me from itorero. We have been sent to utilize the strength of our hands and minds not only to improve our lives but those of the people around us too. I highly recommend itorero for any young person because it’s a school far away from school.