Exploring Genocide: educational challenges and opportunities

93553556d8d7d53d63_l_6f386DevelopmentEducation.ie Action Projects

Colm Regan
80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World – www.8020.ie
The mural was co-ordinated by John Johnston of 80:20 (now with Goldsmith’s College, London) and Valarie Duffy (now with the National Youth Council of Ireland).
Young people 14+; over 9 schools and two youth organisations from East Belfast and the Republic of Ireland
Phase 1 of the project was led by Alternatives in East Belfast and Presentation College, Bray, Co. Wicklow
Phase 2 was co-ordinated by a group of students in Loreto Crumlin, Loreto Bray and the Loreto Peace & Justice Network (Ireland)

Phase 1 of the project took one full year to complete in total as regard research, design and delivery (although the wall mural component took 5 full days), publication of accompanying resource and follow up workshops. Phase 2 represented an update of the project and took one month to complete.

There is no fixed and recommended timeframe for such a project; it very much depends on the timeframe available to gather participants together and to draft and deliver all the various components.
The activity was designed to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide and was conceived to distil key lessons from the event; to reflect on its educational implications and to apply them to Ireland and, in particular the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The two centrepieces of the project were a wall mural which highlighted times and places where genocide had occurred (or where it is ‘claimed’ it occurred as some instances are contested e.g. Australia and Armenia) and the publication of an educational resource exploring the issue plus a set of accompanying posters.

The project involved a range of DE activities including group discussion and debate; research and documentation; graphic design and mural delivery; public relations and communication; poster design and public presentation and debate.

3 big ideas:
  • Genocide is not a random act of violence on a large scale; genocide is a planned, systematic and focused act consciously delivered on a specific and targeted group of people
  • There are many crucial lessons to be learned and they have significant educational implications – e.g. how does genocide occur; what factors and circumstances allow it; what the roles of government and the broader society are (and could be) and what of the role of ‘ordinary people’

Art is a particularly useful and insightful DE methodology for exploring an issue such as this


We made extensive use of the internet to research and ‘shape’ the project (particularly http://genocidewatch.org and the work of Gregory Stanton; http://www. hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html and the work of Alex De Waal, Elizabeth Neuffer and Rakiya Omar)

Materials used to manufacture the 8 Stages of Genocide mural included 8 large plywood boards; tracing paper, paint, pens, overhead projects, scissors, glue, measuring tape, access to computers, access to stimulus material on Genocide (videos, posters, statistics, interviews, audio tapes etc.)


We had worked with Alternatives on a number of projects focused on identity, flags and conflict and we had also worked with school groups on conflict and on Northern Ireland. We were interested to ‘apply’ this work to the 2004 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. We identified an agreed location (Presentation College, Bray) and a specific timeframe when the participants could be ‘free’ from their youth and school ‘normal agenda’ commitments.

The process normally involved group discussion to reach a resolution around a particular issues (e.g. a key visual image and how to deliver it), followed by its initial delivery (and in one case, its complete replacement with an alternative image which better captured what was needed) followed by review and negotiation of the next stage etc.
For example, we debated the issue of how genocide is implemented and agreed, after discussion, that using an active tense better captured the active process of killing e.g. gassing, stabbing, shooting, raping etc.
Throughout the process, participants also prepared press statements and photo documentation which was then later used in local newspapers and on local radio.
We used the gym hall in the college and youth and class groups were invited to join workshops in the gym where participants explained the project and process and debated the issues.
There was also a major launch of the mural involving over 300 parents and local people.
In the 2nd phase of the project, it was decided to ‘update’ the mural by applying the process and analysis to the situation in Darfur. As part of this process, participants travelled to Concern Worldwide to receive a briefing on the situation there prior to embarking on updating the mural.

The Genocide mural remained the central focus throughout the project and the core debate within the process became that of capturing different dimensions of the issue – following intense debate (and frequent disagreement on almost every aspect) it was agreed to ‘layer’ the mural in the following way:

    • The First Layer – we decided to include 3 pieces of important information – places in which genocide and mass killing occurred (or are alleged to have occurred); the dates of such events and the methods used in killing (note that we used the active rather than the passive tense). Some of the dates and places are clearly highly controversial and are hotly contested. For example, the treatment of Aboriginal Australians in the history of that country is a matter of current political debate and potential legal action; the question of the Armenians in 1915 – 1917 (and now a highly political issue in the United States as well as in Turkey) and, of course, the inclusion of Northern Ireland.
    • The Second layer – approached the question of imagery – the traditional image of genocide is that of a mass of skulls – nothing was debated more in the entire project than the use, number and presentation of the skulls (other images were painted originally, subsequently rejected and painted over).
    • The Third layer – in the mural is represented by the survivors’ testimonies – hand-written on the mural – everyone associated with the project was invited to find and include a testimony. This layer represents our attempt to ‘humanise’ the issue of genocide and killing.
    • The Fourth and final layer – includes the eight stages of genocide as identified by Gregory Stanton – this represents the ‘analytical layer’ of the mural (see www.genocidewatch.org) and is the one around which most ‘learning’ was done. Three years on, we decided to revisit and update the mural to carry on the learning and to reflect the current debate around genocide in Darfur. We also wanted to use the mural (and its accompanying resource) to raise awareness amongst others and to stimulate action on the issue.
       Each participant also agreed to identify a testimony from someone involved in a genocide in some way and to write their ‘story’ on the mural directly.

Each participant also agreed to identify a testimony from someone involved in a genocide in some way and to write their ‘story’ on the mural directly.


  • There was very considerable interest in studying the genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere but there was also very considerable opposition to applying that learning and its lessons to Ireland
  • Participants were genuinely shocked to learn and reflect on the 8 stages approach to the topic, especially the early stages and the final stage of denial; see http://www.genocidewatch. org/genocide/8stagesofgenocide.html
  • The process of layering the mural (where different elements of the issues are ‘painted’ over each other while remaining visible in some measure) is a complex way of visualising the process of genocide and art is a particularly effective medium with which to work; see http://www. developmenteducation.ie/issues-and- topics/genocide/why-study.html
  • The specific learning was identifiable amongst participants; see http://www. developmenteducation.ie/issues-and- topics/genocide/quotes.html
But there are other, equally important lessons:

    • That we can experience revulsion and yet be inspired
    • So that we realise that ordinary people are capable of horrific violence (and heroism)
    • That the issue cannot be left to governments and international bodies alone to deal with
    • That the promotion and protection of human rights is vital
    • That specific interventions such as the International Criminal Court are fundamental to the
    • rule of law – and of morality
    • That education against genocide is a fundamental (if insufficient) instrument of prevention, etc.
    • As has been pointed out – ‘what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history’.

The feedback from participants was very positive but more interestingly, the interest generated beyond participants – from teachers, youth workers, local media and parents was very considerable (much more than ‘normal’ for a project of this kind).
The quotes from participants reveal quite a lot in this regard; see http://www. developmenteducation.ie/issues-and- topics/genocide/quotes.html
The exploring genocide project has been adapted for teachers and others to learn about genocide, study other examples of genocide (the American Holocaust,the Armenian Genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, the Bosnian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide), a debate on Darfur as genocide and a brief review of the genocide project and its learning lessons http://www.developmenteducation.ie/ issues-and-topics/genocide/

A companion resource Exploring Genocide: Educational Issues and Challenges (2007) featuring project reflections, participant observations and detailed step-by-step project actions was also produced which is accompanied by a set of 3 posters.
We were particularly fortunate to have an artist and teacher, John Johnston (who at the time worked in 80:20) engaged in the project as his art background and skill proved to be invaluable.
Youth, genocide, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, stages of genocide, art
Development education, conflict and genocide