Former child soldiers enthral drama enthusiasts

A few weeks ago, word went round that the ex-combatants from Child Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) in Musanze District would stage a play, Hozwa Mwana w’u Rwanda, in Kigali.
The ex-child soldiers in action.
The ex-child soldiers in action.

A few weeks ago, word went round that the ex-combatants from Child Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) in Musanze District would stage a play, Hozwa Mwana w’u Rwanda, in Kigali.

As expected, theatre lovers from different parts of the city last Friday converged at the Kacyiru-based hall that was packed to capacity to watch the play.

As if to break the language barrier, English and French subtitles were strategically projected on a mini screen above the stage. The boys did not disappoint. They took to the stage by storm and every movement was a testimony to their untapped talents.

Directed by Ailin Conant, an American-born theatre artist, Hozwa Mwana w’u Rwanda, revolves around a group of boys who recently escaped from the D.R. Congo- based FDLR rebels. The play begins with their memories while in the forest, stories of escape and their current moment of transition. It is cleverly highlighted through a fairy tale of a boy named Chance, who is rejected by his family but rescued by a magical fish.

The play incorporates narrative storytelling and testimony, physical theatre, poetry, and traditional dance and drumming. It is a clear snapshot of a child who is rejected by his family. It reflects the actual status of the boys because most of them are yet to return to their families.

It further reflects their fears, and hopes as they begin the process of reintegrating into civilian life in Rwanda.

“The boys love art and are natural performers. We’ve found that the theatre is a place that they can truly “play” with their deepest hopes and fears about the incredible journey of transition that lies ahead of them” says Ailin.

Settling not a walk on the park

Emmanuel Nkurunziza, 17, was forced to become a soldier at the age of 12.

“I was only 12 when they kidnapped me. For five years, I did not know peace and every single day was more difficult than the previous one. I wanted to come to Rwanda but it was not a walk in the park,” he recalls.

Jean Chrispin Ngabo, 17, is not happy with the “Konys” of this world.

He says: “I was 14 years when I became a child soldier. I feel that whoever does this to innocent children is destroying their future. It’s even worse than cutting someone’s legs or arms. Such heartless people should be stopped at all costs. I hope that people like the notorious Kony of Uganda will one day face justice.”

Ngabo wishes to resume school

“All I want is to go back to school. Unfortunately, I don’t have parents or relatives who can help me achieve this. I left my sister in DRC where she’s married. I cannot go back to DRC as I fear my sister will disown me,” he explains. 

Kennedy Mazimpaka, a local actor who was among the audience, wanted to know the relationship between the story and the actors.

“All of us are real former child soldiers. This play expresses the fear of rejection that we faced while in the Congo. Some of us and especially those who lost their feet were rejected by their families. The luckier ones were embraced,” explains Ngabo, the group leader.

The play was funded by the American Embassy, Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), Ishyo Arts Centre, and the French Embassy, while the workshop and the video production were funded by well wishers.

Ailin’s soft spot for Rwanda

“I had been to Rwanda in 2009 to devise a theatre piece, “Ni Ibya Buri Wese,” with a group  of young theatre artistes from Never Again Rwanda’s semi-professional troupe, One Family. I fell in love with Rwanda and knew it would be an incredible experience to come back and work with ex-combatants who had a different perspective and narrative than the one I connected with before.”

Bright Future

“Child soldier is a term that tends to drum up a lot of angst and pity. These boys don’t need pity. They need a platform, a stage to shine upon. They are joyful, truly joyful, like all children. They are children. They are boys. And I hold great hopes for their future,” Ailin says.

“I’m working with a playwright who will be synthesising my experiences this year into a play which my company will stage in London in 2013,” she adds.

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