Young Scots visit Rwanda to learn about peacebuilding

Cumbernauld's youngest councillor is among a group of 10 young Christians and Muslims from across Scotland who are spending a week in Rwanda to learn how to build relationships across different racial, religious and cultural groups.

The theme of the visit is Peacebuilding across Borders.

While in Rwanda, the Youth Leaders Programme group will meet Christian and Muslim leaders, visit the Rwanda genocide memorial, spend a night with a host family and take part in a workshop with young Rwandans.

The group will also look at how Rwanda copes with the 160,000 refugees from neighbouring countries who have taken sanctuary there.

Group photo from the interfaith trip
Back row from l - r: Youth Moderator Robin Downie, Katja Schroeder, Agnieszka Januszczykow, Junaid Ashraf, Gigha Lennox, Seoras Orr Front row: Madinah Javed, Haleemah Herkes, Luna Issa, Mahrukh Adnan Shaukat

The young people, who are all in their 20s, also include a law student, a non-profit development worker, an aspiring writer, a trainee minister, the Moderator of the Kirk's National Youth Assembly, youth workers, a student of international politics and a Mosque employee.

Sharing faith

Seoras Orr, a trainee minister who grew up in Aviemore, said: "I am very much looking forward to this opportunity to make new friends, to learn new things and have new experiences.

"It is exciting to be able to share my Christian faith with my Muslim neighbours and to hear more about their beliefs as well as their personal stories."

Gigha Lennox, a church youth worker in Broomhouse, Edinburgh, said she was "overwhelmed by this opportunity to learn, discover and grow."

"I am excited to travel together as a community and discover a whole new culture, while exploring each other's faiths, and to see the differences between Scotland and Rwanda," she added.

Mahrukh Adnan Shaukat, 23, is a development officer based in Glasgow at Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre.

She said: "I'm really looking forward to meeting Muslims from another country and getting to spend time with them as well as learning about how the major faith communities of Muslims and Christians interact in another context.

"It's as much about Muslims learning about Muslims as it is Muslims learning about Christians on this trip, we're all so different."

Group photo from the interfaith trip
A photo of the group in Rwanda

Unique & positive programme

Junaid Ashraf, an engineering student at the University of Glasgow and councillor for Cumbernauld South, said: "I'm really excited to be a part of such a unique and positive programme.

"All the participants come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds and the breadth of practiced religious diversity amongst both the faith groups, so I really think will make for a very interesting programme abroad.

"I can't wait to put into practice everything I'll learn when we return to Scotland."

Agnieszka Januszczyk, a student of politics at Glasgow University and founder of Interfaith Society at the University said: "I am immensely interested in the role of interfaith dialogue in conflict resolution and have studied in-depth the recent history of Rwanda at the University.

"I am looking forward to having the opportunity to visit the country and see with my own eyes what until now I have seen through the lens of my social science studies.

"On a more personal note, I am excited to meet other young people who strive to make a difference in the world around them.

"I am certain that the experiences in Rwanda will further shape my interfaith involvement in Scotland."

Working together

Created by the Church of Scotland and Interfaith Scotland, the Youth Leaders Programme selected five young Christians and five young Muslims to travel to Rwanda and learn about the challenges facing each country and how faith groups are working together for peace.

Edinburgh University's Alwaleed Centre and Al Makhtoum College in Dundee are supporting the peacebuilding visit which is being organised in Rwanda by the Programme for Christian Muslim Relations in Africa.

Group leaders from the Church of Scotland and Interfaith Scotland will support the young people during their week-long visit.

At 11.2 million people, Rwanda 's population is twice the size of Scotland's but the proportion of the population who are Muslim is about the same - three percent.

The majority of Rwandans are Christians.

Today Rwanda is considered one of the safest countries in Africa, but in 1994 it was the site of a horrific genocide, memorialised a decade later in the award-winning film Hotel Rwanda.

After years of ethnic conflict, the ruling Hutu group slaughtered 800,000 people - mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus - in less than 100 days.


As well as visiting the Kigali Genocide memorial in Rwanda's capital city, the group will go to the Remera Church Memorial site, where they will meet members of an association that includes both victims and perpetrators of the genocide.

Despite its serious purpose, the visit will also include time to relax and enjoy meals and conversation with Rwandan host families as well as a chance to travel through the country's famously beautiful green hills during a visit to Kivu Lake in Western Rwanda.

Jennie Chinembiri, Africa and Caribbean Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, is one of the group leaders.

She said: "After the visit, they will help plan and launch Scottish National Interfaith Week (12-20 November) as well as hosting Christian Muslim dialogues in their local areas and sharing the lessons they learned in Rwanda.

"Over the next year they will lead sessions at an interfaith conference in April 2018 and take the lead as interfaith ambassadors."